A guide to supporting the elderly in regaining confidence and mobility after falls, injuries or surgeries
As we age, it becomes apparent that our balance and coordination can deteriorate rapidly, putting us at higher risk for falls and injuries. In Australia, falls are one of the leading causes of unintentional injuries in Australians aged 65 or over, resulting in hospitalisation for nearly 1 in 5 cases. As Australia’s population ages, the likelihood of more Aussies needing helping due to fall injuries is ever increasing.
With this in mind, the team here at ConnectAbility, based in Newcastle and the Central coast, have written this article to help you understand the causes of falls and the ways you can better recover from or prevent them.
The effects of falls on older Australians
Even when falls don’t cause injuries, the leading effect on older Australians due to falls is a loss in confidence to complete day to day tasks. Psychologically, having a fall can make the individual question their ability to stay balanced and coordinated in the future, especially if the fall was due to something relatively small or insignificant. This can lead to loss of spatial awareness due to built-up fear or anxiety, which can be very hard to combat or repair.
By helping older Australians to understand that most falls are preventable, we can provide much needed motivation and support to reduce the ongoing risk that falls play.
What causes falls in the elderly?
It might surprise you to learn that the main causes of falls in the elderly are not because the individual is clumsy or not concentrating. There are a multitude of reasons why an older individual may fall, such as physical changes in the body or objects in and around the home.
Physical changes in the body
As we age, our bodies are constantly ageing with us. This brings about physical changes that can affect our day to day lives. As you get older, you may begin to notice:
- Problems with balance and coordination – you may find it hard to walk or get up and down from a chair or bed.
- Weakness in the body – specifically in your muscles and bones, which makes it harder for you to lift your limbs, walk and move.
- Slower reaction times – your ageing brain tries to process data at the same pace as you did when you were younger, but you’re no longer able to keep up.
- Weakened eyesight – you can’t see objects or your surroundings as clearly as you did previously, which affects your perception of the world around you.
Objects in and around the home
The most common place that falls occur are in and around the home. The home can be full of hazards that can cause falls, but the vast majority can be prevented. Some of the most common household hazards include:
- Slippery surfaces – wet floors in the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry, slippery tiles or polished concrete floors.
- Uneven surfaces – ledges, stairs or ramps.
- Trip hazards – loose or unravelled electrical cables, toys, rugs or carpet.
In general, it’s important to realise that, no matter the cause of the fall, there are ways to support the elderly to prevent future falls from occurring, whether they be in the home, or out and about in the community.
Helping older Australians gain mobility after a fall injury
If someone you know or you, yourself have had a fall and sustained an injury, it’s important to take the appropriate medical steps to ensure that you can return to normal life and regain as much mobility as possible.
Seek medical treatment
Injuries from falls can vary in their severity, depending on the impact of the fall. It’s very important that you seek medical treatment as soon as the injury occurs to prevent the potential for permanent damage. This might include visiting a doctor if the injury is minor or calling an ambulance for major injuries. Whatever the severity of the injury, always ensure that you assess the injury and make the decision to seek the appropriate medical treatment necessary.
Seek ongoing care
After the initial medical treatment from a fall injury, it may be necessary to engage the help of ongoing medical services such as physiotherapy to help with making a full recovery. Physiotherapy may be necessary as part of the rehabilitation process to help gain movement and mobility back to the injured part of the body. Injuries need time to heal and, especially with the elderly, the recovery time can be significantly longer than someone who is younger. Regular and supported physiotherapy can be essential to the elderly regaining independence and mobility.
Fall injuries, while very common, are somewhat preventable by the following measures and exercises that can be completed to help reduce the risk of future falls from occurring. Around the home:
- Ensure all trip hazards are tucked away.
- Have uneven surfaces repaired or clearly marked.
- Apply anti-slip mats to slippery floor surfaces.
- Avoid footwear that has slippery soles or little grip.
Some preventative exercises to reduce the risk of falls and assist with regaining strength and mobility include:
- Sit and stand – From a seated position, carefully lift yourself up to a standing position and hold for 10 seconds and then lower back down to a seated position. Try to complete the exercise with hands in front or at the sides rather than using objects as stability aids. If you need support, hold, and push up from the sides of the chair.
Repeat 10 times.
- Sidestep and balance – Standing in front of a table while holding on, take one step to the side. Once you reach the fully legs together straight position, lift your hands from the table and raise them to chest height. Hold for 10 seconds, then lower and regain touch with the table.
Repeat 10 times.
- Back leg lift and balance – Standing in front of a table, while holding on, steadily lift your right leg backwards to a 90-degree angle. Once steady, lift your hands from the table and balance on one leg for 5 seconds. Regain touch with the table and lower your leg. Repeat with the left leg.
- Complete 5 sets on each leg.
Mind over matter
After sustaining an injury from a fall, a lot of elderly individuals not only lose physical capabilities, but also their mental security and confidence. It can take a hearty toll on an individual’s confidence having a fall, however severe and so, to fully recover, provisions must be made for rehabilitation mentally as well. This might be in the form of relaxation or mediation exercises that aren’t physically demanding but are highly beneficial in supporting positive mental output.
It might also entail being active in a socially stimulating environment, being surrounded by non-judgemental parties such as close friends and family. Whatever the exercise, it’s important for the environment to be positive and supportive so the individual feels good and can benefit in a positive way.
Where to get support in regaining your independence and mobility as you age
As we get older, it is important that we seek the necessary support to help us throughout our lives. Older individuals can find support through their own support networks and community as well as specially funded organisations who specialise in age care support. ConnectAbility Australia specialises in Age Care support for older Australians in the Newcastle, Hunter Valley and Central Coast.
ConnectAbility can provide in-house support services, such as helping with day-to-day household tasks, household renovations and modifications, as well as transportation services to help you get to and from your medical appointments. If you need support with regaining your mobility and independence, contact ConnectAbility Australia today on (02) 4962 1000 in Warabrook or (02) 4349 3700 on the Central Coast.