Health and Wellbeing
An Occupational Therapist’s Guide to Fall Prevention
Falling is often associated with getting older and whilst ageing can increase the risk and frequency of falls, they can occur at any age and for a variety of reasons.
Falls can be categorised into three types:
Intrinsic: which relates to the person if they have a health condition such as low blood pressure or a difficulty that affects their mobility, such as Parkinson’s Disease.
Extrinsic: which includes environmental aspects or external factors, such as uneven flooring.
Activity based: where undertaking a task in a certain way may increase the risk of an accident or fall.
Occupational therapists often assess people following a fall. However, they also support people to take the steps to prevent falls from happening in the first instance. They will do this by assessing the person, their environment, what the person wants to be able to do in that environment and then helping to reduce any potential risks while empowering the person to be as independent as possible. Occupational therapists may also support people who have a fear of falling or are avoiding taking part in their daily occupations due to an actual or perceived risk.
However, you don’t need a full occupational therapy assessment to start taking steps to reduce the risk of having a fall. Below, we discuss some of the changes you can make yourself within your daily life and routines.
5 tips on preventing falls
Tidying your space
Ensuring any hallways or routes between rooms are clear and well-lit so they are easy to navigate. Look to remove any obstacles such as, rugs or additional items to give you room to move around freely and safely.
The saying “use it or lose it’ is correct. Staying mobile and active has many benefits to health and well-being. From digestion to improving your mood, as well as helping to reduce your risk of falling, prevent injury and support recovery in the event an accident does occur. Seated exercises and stretches like ankle rotations and feet flexing can help aid stability and increase your confidence. You don’t have to walk miles a day, but participating in gentle regular movements each day can help improve balance, develop muscle strength, improve stamina and your tolerance to exercise.
Equipment and adaptations
In our homes there will be areas where we may be more at risk of slips, trips or falls. Rather than avoiding these areas, we can look to make them safer. Grab handles placed by porch steps or in the shower can offer support to steady your balance when accessing your home or the bathroom. If you are worried about falling when getting up and moving about, furniture such as rise and recline chairs can make it easier to transfer from sitting to standing and vice versa. The mechanics of rise and recline chairs also aid you in standing at a slow and comfortable pace. This then allows your blood pressure to adjust slowly and can help you feel less dizzy, which can occur when you stand up too quickly. Equally holding onto the arms of the armchair can also help to steady your balance. Remember to take a few seconds to fully adjust to standing before setting off to walk.
Personal care and attention
If you require glasses or hearing aids, make sure you are wearing them prior to carrying out tasks or leaving the house. This helps you see risks, as well as helping with your balance. Keeping a note by the door with a checklist of all the things you need may be useful. Take good care of your feet and cut your toenails regularly as this will ensure your feet are comfortable and your shoes fit well. Wearing supportive footwear even in the house can help reduce your risk of falling.
Hydration, nutrition and medication
Drinking plenty of water can help to prevent urinary tract infections, which are known to impact on balance and cognition and can increase the risk of falls. If sitting to standing is difficult, we often don’t drink enough hoping we won’t need to have to go to the bathroom as often. However, as mentioned above - regular exercise such as walking around your house can help reduce stiffness and pain in the long term. A rise and recline chair or adjustable bed can help you get into a standing position much easier and with less pain.
When we don’t eat enough or gain the nutrients we need from food such as protein, we can experience dizziness, loss of energy and muscle weakness. This then impacts on our ability to perform basic tasks. If you are concerned about this, you can contact your doctor who may be able to offer advice on any vitamin or mineral supplementation to support you if you are deficient in these areas.
Be sure to make use of the services available to you like medication reviews with your pharmacist. Some medications can impact on mobility or have side effects like drowsiness, while others should be taken prior to getting up in the morning.
It may sometimes feel easier and safer to sit all day. However, how realistic or meaningful would that life be? We may not be able to remove risk entirely, however, we can mitigate against it. While this article has focussed on tips for fall prevention, these tips can also support you in other areas of your life. Sometimes a little help from products such as, rise recline chairs, adjustable beds and bath lifts can give us more confidence and ease the pain when sitting or standing. By remaining safe, well and mobile you can help reduce any additional risk of accidents and illness. Therefore, helping yourself to continue to engage in the activities that you enjoy and value.
As an occupational therapist I like to recommend products that support a person’s natural biomechanical movements, helping them to sit, stand and move in a safe manner. Rise and recline chairs help support the joints of the body, especially hips and knees helping you to rest in a comfortable position. The mechanics of the chair can then help take the weight of your body assisting you to sit and stand more comfortably and safer.