You might take your balance for granted, but as you get older it’s important to be aware of the risk of falling and the problems it might cause. From mid-life onwards, your risk of falling increases significantly, so that by age 65 about 30 per cent of people fall at least once a year and by the age of 80 this has risen to 50 per cent.
Many people will just need dusting off and after a quick check-up are sent home again. Other people find that their fall has resulted in serious injuries such as a broken hip which might lead to permanent disability or a loss of independence. Most of those who fall attribute their accident to a careless movement or ‘a bit of a trip’ over badly placed furniture, for example. But in the majority of cases there is a specific factor at work that is making them more vulnerable to falling.
It’s essential to examine the details of your fall, looking for clues with your doctor about the cause and, if necessary, carrying out tests and further investigations. You are likely to be asked what led up to the fall and whether you were feeling unwell. Were there symptoms such as dizziness, palpitations or blurred vision? Did you suddenly black out and crash to the ground? Or were you feeling fine until you lost your balance when the family dog accidentally bumped into you?
There is a long list of factors that can contribute to a fall. A common one is low blood pressure, especially when standing up suddenly. Abnormal heart rhythms can also cause falls because they disrupt the supply of oxygen to your brain. Other factors include poor vision, painful joints that limit movement, anaemia, weak muscles, a cluttered environment and badly fitting shoes.
If you have several falls, your doctor will probably want to carry out some blood tests and check your heart health. The GP may recommend a brain scan or you may be referred to the falls clinic at your local hospital where you will be carefully assessed by experts.
You can take a number of steps yourself to try to prevent falls. A diet rich in protein and Vitamin D will help keep your muscles and bones strong to hold you upright. Exercise is important to strengthen and control your muscles and joints. Try to stay well hydrated at all times but especially on hot days to avoid low blood pressure. Have your sight and hearing regularly tested, and wear spectacles and hearing aids if advised. Take a look at your home environment and make it safe. Your GP can check your medication to look for anything which might increase your risk of falls (a side effect of some drugs).
Q I keep forgetting to take my medicines, what can I do?
Dr Trisha says: The easiest way to remember your pills is to use a dosette box or pill organiser – a set of little plastic boxes handily labelled with each day of the week. At the start of every week, you fill these up with each day’s supply of medicine. Some boxes have several slots for different doses on any day. Ask your pharmacist about different systems.
Alternatively, some pharmacies will make up a whole tray or blister pack for the week. This service is especially useful if you care for someone who can’t fill out their own tray. Your GP can arrange this for you, and will also send your prescriptions direct to the pharmacy for this purpose.
- Dr Trisha writes a column every fortnight in Yours magazine. Ask Dr Trisha about your health problems by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.