Tips For Preventing Falls This Winter

The Public Health Agency (PHA) has joined with local government to urge members of the public to take steps to prevent falls at home this winter.

Falls can have a very serious impact, particularly for elderly people, often resulting in pain and injury and in some cases even death, so it is important to take measures to help prevent them happening.

Hilary Johnston, Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Manager with the PHA, said: "A fall can have a huge impact on a person both mentally and physically. This can include pain, injury, distress, loss of confidence, loss of independence and even death. Many older people also live in fear that they could fall, and this loss of confidence can significantly impact on their ability to remain independent."

Various home adjustments and precautionary measures can reduce the risk of slips and trips, as set out by the agency. Ms Johnston told of how introducing small changes into your everyday routine can be really beneficial in preventing an accident at home.

"Introducing preventative measures can lower the chances of having a fall. This can include removing hazards that could cause a trip. Exercise and physical activity are really important as we get older too – activities that improve muscle strength in our legs, arms, back, shoulders and chest can reduce the risk of falling," she added.

Steps to help prevent a fall in the home include:

• Get up from chair or bed slowly to avoid dizziness.

• Take only the medication prescribed by your doctor, at the correct dosage. Have your medication reviewed regularly by your doctor or pharmacist.

• Keep your stairs free of clutter – do not leave items lying on the stairs that could cause a trip or fall.

• Ensure your home is well lit (use high wattage, low energy light bulbs) and always put lights on at night, especially when getting up during the night.

• Remove all loose/ worn mats.

• Avoid trailing leads/ wires.

• If you use slip-resistant mats in the bath or shower, ensure they are used appropriately, removing them after use to air dry and cleaning the soap suds that can build up and cause a slip.

• Mop up any water/ spillages as soon as possible.

• Have broken or uneven pathways outdoors repaired.

• Take extra care when walking on icy pathways and doorsteps.
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Homes can be adapted or equipment provided in order to minimise the risk of falling. Those more at risk can also be referred to an Occupational Therapist who can assess their needs and potential safety risks in the home. Social housing tenants can obtain additional lighting, stair rails and other minor adaptations directly from your housing provider. More information on this can be gained by contacting the Home Safety Officer at your local council.

A number of simple health checks and actions can also help reduce the risk:

• Check your eyesight – good vision has a major role in how you maintain your balance. Eye tests are free for everyone over the age of 60.

• Look after your feet – as you get older, the size and shape of your feet may change so always have your feet measured when buying new shoes. Choose footwear that has a back with a strap, velcro or preferably laces to secure them tightly. Avoid high heels and slip-ons.

• Bone health – osteoporosis is known as the silent illness and results in more fragile bones that will break more easily, often following a fall. There are a number of risk factors that can increase your likelihood of developing osteoporosis such as family history, smoking, drinking alcohol, long term immobility, early menopause, previously fractured bones and certain medical conditions. If you think you might be at risk of this condition you should contact your GP.

• Exercise and physical activity – activities that improve muscle strength in our legs, arms, back, shoulders and chest are particularly important as we get older. They can make it easier to get up out of a chair, and improve our posture, co-ordination and balance which reduces our risk of falling. Exercise must be performed at least three times a week for effective falls prevention.

Free home safety checks are available for over 65s and provide an opportunity to help identify risks in the home and provide advice about reducing them. For more information contact the Home Safety Officer at your local council.

The PHA and councils across Northern Ireland have produced a falls prevention video to raise awareness of the measures we can take at home to prevent falls. This can be viewed below:



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