Having a fall can be a huge setback for an older person. Depending on the severity of any injuries, it can mean weeks or months of healing and medical care. A bad fall can result in hospitalisation with broken bones or deep skin tears, but even bruising from a minor fall can be severe and cause weeks of discomfort. No one likes the feeling of losing control or the loss of confidence that may result after a fall.

We all agree – prevention is better than the cure.

Prevention means taking action to prevent a fall from happening. It’s important to be aware of the ‘warning signs’ and possible risks that might increase your chances of falling, so you can remedy those situations or events before they cause a fall.

Signs that you or a loved one may be at risk of a fall can relate to a chronic health condition, a deterioration in mobility, or follow a few minor falls. It is important to be aware of any changes or signs such as:

✓ Missed outings, including doctor appointments or putting off making medical appointments
✓ Being inactive or feeling lethargic
✓ Becoming socially isolated or showing signs of depression
✓ Being reluctant to cook or struggling to keep the house clean and tidy

✓ Having a poor appetite or a change in weight
✓ Deterioration of chronic health conditions, eg. high blood pressure or diabetes
✓ Showing a general disinterest in overall health and or/ hobbies and interests previously enjoyed
✓ Being more confused or forgetful, especially with everyday living tasks

Remember, your home is where you spend the majority of your time. A few simple adjustments to the safety of your home, as well as being conscious of potential trip hazards around the house, can help you to continue to live safely and independently at home for longer.

The annual cost of fall-related claims for New Zealanders aged 65 and over was around $163 million in 2016, and this is projected to reach between $296 million and $418 million annually by 2025.

For older people, being admitted to hospital presents a risk in itself – there’s the stress of being in an unfamiliar environment, the increased chance of acquiring infections, and even muscle wastage from spending too much time restricted to a hospital bed.

We know that more older people are being admitted to hospital than ever before, but how many of those visits could have been prevented if the right support had been in place at home?

A fall can be viewed sometimes as the first step in the path of decline for an older person, but it doesn’t have to be this way. With proper guidance and support at home, older people can maintain their independence and stay ‘falls free’. From keeping active to eating well, there are many simple ways to prevent falls.

1. Simple solutions for inside

The best way to start is by conducting a safety audit of your own home. Go room to room looking for possible hazards relating to furniture, rugs, lighting, stairs and electrical leads. Be critical and realistic about the risks – some items that have been in place for years may no longer be safe especially if you are less mobile than you used to be. It’s better to remove them now than regret tripping over them later.

2. Staying safe outside

It’s so important to stay active as you get older, but outside activities can be risky if you’re not careful to remove hazards first. Make sure your garden paths are free of clutter, moss and algae, and consider having support rails installed to help you move safely around the outside of your home. Consider perhaps an upgrade of your driveway or pathways to provide extra grip and avoid the chance of slipping over.

3. Looking after your health

You can take all the precautions in the world but still have a fall if your body is weakened by lack of movement and exercise. As we age, our muscle strength starts to decline and our balance can deteriorate. Doing simple exercises to improve your strength and balance can help maintain or even improve your ability to complete your daily activities and reduce your falls risk. Talk to your GP or other health professional to work on a strength-building exercise program that you can do every day with the support of your CAREGiver.

4. Staying positive for mental health

As we age, it is so important to develop and maintain social connections as loneliness and social isolation can have a detrimental impact on our mental health. Having friends, family, and communities to talk to and interact with can make a world of difference. Be proactive as it is never too late to start new friendships or rekindle old ones. Sometimes a little help from a CAREGiver at home can have a profound effect on reducing social isolation and improving mental health. Perhaps you are struggling now to walk up your stairs? Or are you having difficulty getting in and out of the shower? Perhaps you have become disinterested in or overwhelmed when preparing and cooking your meals? Or are you having difficulty changing bed linen, making the bed, hanging out your washing, vacuuming, or mopping the floors? If you are struggling with any of these daily living tasks at home, there is help available that will assist you to retain your independence while safely continuing to live in your own home.

5. Eat a nourishing diet

Sometimes we might think our diet is healthy, but that same diet might not be as ‘nourishing’ as it should be, especially as our bodies age. Now might not be the time to diet to lose weight, but it’s definitely not the time to fill up on sugar, either. Eating the best balance of proper nutrients helps to determine the health of our bodies and brains as we get older. Healthy eating for nourishment includes consuming high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals while minimising processed foods, saturated fats and alcohol.

6. Looking after our senses

As we age, we may experience a decline in mobility and motor skills, which can result in having difficulties with balance. Our senses can deteriorate (ie hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch), may change with age and we may also become more forgetful. These changes can impact on our reactions and how we interact with our environment. Changes to our senses can therefore lead to a greater risk of accident or injury in and around our homes.

Make sure you invest some time in ensuring your own safety and health at home to avoid a potential fall later.

About Home Instead

Home Instead is a specialist provider of high quality, relationship-based, in-home care for older New Zealanders. We help with a range of personal and lifestyle needs while providing welcome companionship. Our services include assistance with personal care, light household duties, meal preparation, medication reminders, and transport to appointments, shopping and social outings. We take personal responsibility for providing the best in-home care and support to meet our clients’ needs and are committed to addressing the individual and national challenges of New Zealand’s ageing population.