Falls are serious business

Falls can be a foreshadow of declining strength and health. While anyone is susceptible to experiencing an occasional trip or slip, people above 60 years of age are statistically at a greater risk of falling. And falls are even more dangerous in this population due to their increased incidence and susceptibility to injury. According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 1 out 4 older US adults —those 65 and older—reported falling at least once within a 12-month timeframe.  And falling once doubles your chances of falling again!  The CDC also reports more sobering statistics related to falls, such as the severity of injury and mortality rates. Falls are the leading cause of injury and death in this age group.

 

Aftermath of a fall

Falling can have an enormous impact on quality of life for a person. After a fall, an older person can lose confidence, become less active and quickly lose muscle strength and power of their leg muscles. Even rising from a chair can become problematic.  And loss of strength can lead to a steady decline in an individual’s ability to carry out common daily activities required to remain independent.

 

Why do older people fall?

Most falls are associated with identifiable risk factors including muscular weakness, unsteady walking, and poor balance. A previous blog we wrote highlighted these risk factors in greater detail. Isolation — such as that experienced and amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic — or periods of inactivity are linked to increased risk of falling and hospitalization for older adults. And isolation is associated with lower levels of activity, lower exercise tolerance and loss of muscle strength.

 

How can you land on your feet?

John was enjoying a trek on a mountain trail when he lost his balance due to an uneven surface.  He fell forward, with the side of his knee suffering the greatest impact from the fall.  No broken bones, but his knee pain took a few weeks to settle. And due to knee discomfort, John was less active in those weeks of recovery. Although John’s knee is no longer painful, he feels his legs are weaker and at times may give way.  How can he prevent falls in the future?

As a practicing physiotherapist, my team and I have noticed an increased number of falls following periods of inactivity among our clients.  We also tend to many older clients seeking treatment for injuries sustained when returning to increased levels of activity. This is a common feature of prematurely ‘overloading’ muscles, tendons and ligaments which leads to injury.

 

Preventing a fall should be your overarching goal

If you are fortunate to have avoided a fall, it is not too late to prevent one in the future.  Regular and graduated exercise is a powerful intervention that is instrumental in preventing falls in older adults.  Appropriate exercise that strengthens leg and core muscles can help stabilize and support joints, improve balance and restore confidence. It is a cost-effective strategy to prevent falls.

This targeted daily five-minute exercise program will help you improve muscle strength, power and balance and help prevent falls!

 

Simple strength and balance challenge

  • 3 exercises (5-minute duration)
  • Once per day
  • Four-week commitment

Do these exercises in the following order at your own pace but as quickly as you can.  

  1. Sit to stand 5 
  2. Single leg stand on left leg and 10 kicks with right leg 
  3. Sit to stand x 5   
  4. Heel raises x10 
  5. Sit to stand x 5  
  6. Single leg stand on right leg and 10 kicks with left leg  
  7. Sit to stand x 5  

Instructions for each exercise 

A. Sit to stand  

  • Start seated in a chair (or similar) with your arms across your chest, your feet on the floor and your knees at ~90 degrees. 
  • Bend forward at the hips and stand up until you are completely upright with knees straight.  
  • Lift your chest and tighten your buttocks.  
  • Sit down slowly, bending at the hips and knees, and control the movement, not allowing yourself to ‘flop’ into the chair. 

B. Single leg stand with kick 

  • Stand with your feet together. 
  • Lift one foot off the floor while standing on the other leg.    
  • Kick the raised leg forward, then sideways and backwards while you maintain your balance.  
  • If required, do this exercise adjacent to a stable support. 

 C. Heel Raises

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and arms by your sides.  
  • Keeping your knees straight, lift both heels and rise on to your toes.  
  • Return to the starting position, controlling the movement as you lower both heels to the ground.