Keeping mum on her feet

Older people are more prone to falls, and more likely to injure themselves when they do. There is much that we can do to help them, from keeping their homes safe to reduce the risk of falls, to keeping their bones strong to cut the chance of breaking a bone if they do fall.

It's a constant worry as loved ones get older - could they fall and break something? Keeping our older friends and relatives on their feet can help keep them independent and living in their own homes. Older people are more prone to falls, and more likely to injure themselves when they do. There is much that we can do to help them, from keeping their homes safe to reduce the risk of falls, to keeping their bones strong to cut the chance of breaking a bone if they do fall.

If your relative has had falls before, your doctor may be able to refer them to a falls clinic with a whole team of health professionals. Occupational therapists can help with home adaptations like stair and bath rails, and physiotherapists can advise on exercises to improve muscle strength and balance.

The eyes have it

Tripping because you haven't seen a hazard on the floor or you've misjudged the height of a step, can be disastrous if you're older. Do get regular eye checks.

Don't go tripping

Do you remember when your kids were toddlers, and you went through grandma's house with a practiced eye before you let the kids loose? China ornaments were swept out of the reach of tiny hands; pan handles moved round on the stove so inquisitive fingers couldn't tip them over. The same sort of detective work could keep your older relative safe. Check there's adequate lighting in stairways, so they can judge the height of the stairs; remove rugs or trailing lamp cables they could trip on; and make sure they have well-fitting slippers with backs.

Drowsiness comes before a fall

A worrying recent study suggests that sleeping tablets can increase your risk of dying. The 'hangover effect', making you more sleepy the next morning, may raise the risk of falls and injuries. Many other medications cause drowsiness, including strong painkillers and some medicines for depression. So, of course, can alcohol, which can have a much greater effect on older people if they're taking medicines which can increase drowsiness. If you're worried, offer to go with your loved one when they have their next GP appointment to talk about their medicines.

Keep on standing

Some medicines and medical conditions can make your blood pressure drop when you stand, making you prone to falls. If your relative complains of feeling light-headed on standing up, see the GP to check out their blood pressure and medicines.

Eating for health

Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is essential to keep your bones strong. Milk, yoghurt, cheese and tinned fish with bones (sardines, salmon etc) are all great sources of calcium. Most of the vitamin D we get is absorbed through our skins from sunshine, although oily fish, egg yolks and fortified margarines are good diet sources.

Supplements for healthy bones and strength

Many older people don't get enough vitamin D in their diets, and the Chief Medical Officer recommends that all over-65s should consider taking a vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms a day to keep bones healthy. For older people who are very frail or have other medical problems, oral nutritional supplement drinks can provide vitamins, minerals and calories to keep their muscles and bones healthy - your GP can advise.

Exercise - yet more health benefits!

We all know exercise is important for keeping your heart healthy and keeping your weight down. But as you get older other health benefits are equally important when falls become an issue. Weight- bearing exercise, including walking, protects against osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones. Having stronger bones in turn cuts the risk of breaking a bone when you fall - wrists and hips are particularly vulnerable to breaks. But exercise also strengthens muscles and balance. This combination hugely reduces your risk of falling in the first place. Many councils have exercise classes designed especially for the more mature, which can be an excellent way to socialise as well. Ballroom dancing, tai chi, yoga - the possibilities are endless, and they all help with balance and strength.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.