Risk Factors and Taking Preventative Action

Saturday, 16 August 2014 to Sunday, 24 August 2014 marks Seniors Week in Queensland.

Seniors Week is an important community event, coordinated by the Council on the Aging Queensland, and aims to provide an opportunity for the celebration of contributions made by older people within the community. A number of events are to be hosted by various organisations throughout the Gold Coast region for the duration of Seniors Week and are well worth checking out.

In light of Seniors Week, and given that falls in older adults are the most common reason for older persons to be admitted to hospital or transferred to an aged facility, Turner Freeman Lawyers Gold Coast office would like to take the opportunity to advise older adults about their risk factors for suffering falls. Also to inform those most at risk about preventative action which can be taken to avoid or minimise the risk of accidental falls altogether.

Contrary to popular belief, falls can be prevented by identifying and eliminating common risks both inside and outside your home. The steps required to remove such risks are also often easy to implement and cost-free to change.

It is very important to attempt to eliminate the risk of falling within your home, as falls in older adults are more likely to result in more serious injuries than their younger counterparts. The most common fall injuries for older adults are wrist fractures and fractures of the femur. Falls can also cause more severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head trauma. Most significantly, falls can result in older people losing their independence both as a result of the physical injury itself and also due to becoming anxious of suffering further falls and injury in the future.

Older adults can help reduce their risk of falling by:-

  • Knowing the risk factors for falling – Remember, a risk factor will be something that increases the threat or susceptibility to a medical problem or disease;
  • Maintaining a balanced diet full of nutritious food, particularly foods which assist bone density;
  • Talking to a doctor or pharmacist about the effect of medications, particularly those which have side effects such as drowsiness or dizziness;
  • Taking action to stay healthy and active, including improving strength and balance with the implementation of a regular exercise, most days of the week. Popular exercise programs on the Gold Coast include Yoga and Tai Chi (with a number of free sessions listed on the Gold Coast City Council website) and the 60 & Better program.

Most falls resulting in injury for older people occur in and around the home and, while the above lifestyle issues are important in decreasing fall risk in the older adults, it is also important to take steps to minimise risk factors for falls within the home.

The following information may be of assistance in beginning to identify potential trip hazards within your home:-

Check internal areas of your home

The bedroom is the most common area for falls in older adults. In order to prevent or minimise your risk of suffering a fall in this area, make sure that you have a firm mattress which is also not too close to the ground, making it easy to get into and out of. Also be sure to keep your bedside table free from clutter, including cords for lamps and electronics.

Undertake a thorough check of wet areas inside the home, including laundry, bathroom and toilet areas. It is important to ensure that non-slip floorings have been installed and any water spilled on the floor is wiped as soon as possible.

In the kitchen and lounge room areas, check for clutter on the floor regularly and keep track of electrical cords, ensuring they do not lie along the floor. Also store items which are used frequently in easy to reach areas and be sure to have chairs which are sturdy and not too low to the ground.

Internal stairs should be well lit and loose throw rugs with curling edges should be removed from inside the home.

Finally, be sure to clean up all spills and remove broken glass from breakage immediately. Particular attention should be given to any spills which involve greasy foods, as oily substances will increase your risk of slipping.

Give proper attention to external areas of your home

Check for broken pavers, remove leaf litter and also be sure to eliminate any obstacles, such as hoses, when performing gardening work. Any external stairs should also be well lit and free from clutter.

Ladders are also a common cause of falls and serious injury. When using a ladder, be sure to use a safe and stable ladder on a flat, sturdy surface. Also make sure the ladder you are using is right for the job, if it is not – i.e. your ladder is too small – seek external help for the task you wish to complete or hire a larger ladder. This will ensure that you reduce your risk of falling to the lowest level of harm.

Wear sensible shoes

Some types of footwear can increase the risk of falls. When choosing shoes, it is important to make sure your footwear fits you well and is in good condition. Avoid loose fitting shoes, thongs, slippers, and wearing socks or stockings around your home without shoes.

In addition of being aware of fall risks throughout the internal and external areas of your home, it is also important to remain vigilant when you are in public spaces. If you do happen to identify a trip hazard in a public space, report it to the appropriate authority. This may be centre management if the hazard is located in a local shopping centre, or the Gold Coast City Council may also be contacted if the hazard is located in areas maintained by the council, such as concrete walkways, parks, and recreational spaces.

While the implementation of the above tips will certainly help in reducing and eliminating your potential fall risk, if you are to ever suffer a fall it is important to remember the following:-

  • Do not panic;
  • Call for help or utilise your personal alarm system;
  • Decide if you can get up – if you can get up, be sure to do so safely by rolling to your stomach, getting to a crawling position and then crawling slowly to the closest piece of stable furniture. Should you get up yourself, it is important to seek further professional help from a doctor to identify any injuries you may have. Remember, sometimes injuries are not apparent at first glance;
  • For serious falls call 000 immediately.

Remember, falls are not a usual part of the aging process and can easily be prevented by implementing the health and lifestyle changes listed above, talking to your doctor about the effects of medications, and by creating a hazard free environment inside and outside your home. By identifying your fall risks and taking steps to change and modify your home to eliminate or reduce your risk, you will continue to live a safe and independent lifestyle long into the future.

For more information on events being hosted in your local area during Seniors Week (16 – 24 August 2014), visit the Council on the Aging website.

You can also download a free copy of the Queensland Stay on Your Feet® Checklist, developed by the Queensland Government, to assist you in identifying and eliminating your fall risk at home.