When we're young, we think we'll live forever. With age comes the wisdom we need to realise we're only human - but also an increased risk of falls, balance problems, and stiff and painful joints. All of these can stop you being active and independent. So how can you stay mobile and continue to enjoy life?
Who's who and who can help?
There are lots of healthcare professionals and services who can help keep you mobile and independent. They include:
Your GP is your first port of call. Everything from medication for pain and stiffness to changing medication causing dizziness and falls, is their concern.
Physiotherapists work with people who have pain or mobility problems due to muscle, bone or joint problems. They can also help with exercises to strengthen muscles, improving balance and reducing falls
Occupational therapists look at practical ways in which you can cope better with day-to-day activities. They will usually carry out an assessment in your home. They are the people who can help you access everything from handrails on your stairs to practical tools in the kitchen to help you open jars or use the cooker safely.
Falls clinics have doctors, physiotherapists, nurses and occupational therapists, who work together to identify the causes of your falls. They will look at your medical conditions, medications, home situation and physical strength and balance. They can often provide a variety of solutions to keep you safe from falls in the future.
- Walking sticks. These help a lot if you have painful joints, but may not be enough if your balance is not so good. You'll almost certainly have to buy your own, so why not invest in one of the metal telescopic versions (also available in pretty floral patterns - very chic!) which fit into a bag? Do check they have a good rubber grip on the bottom - I've seen too many patients fall because their stick slipped
- Zimmer frames. These are available through physiotherapy departments, falls clinics or through district nurses and sometimes occupational therapists. Ask your GP about a referral
- Wheelchairs. NHS Wheelchair Services are run by local health authorities. Some areas have a self-referral system, but usually you will need to be referred by a hospital or occupational therapist. You will be assessed by a qualified professional such as an occupational therapist, usually at an NHS Wheelchair Services centre or clinic. Unfortunately, the criteria used to decide whether you are eligible for a wheelchair, and if so, which kind (manual or electric, indoor or outdoor etc) vary between different parts of the country.
Avoiding falls and staying independent
Falls are a worryingly common cause of broken bones, especially among older people. Even if you don't do any physical damage, they can knock your confidence. It makes me so sad that many of my patients over the years have become virtual recluses, scared to leave their homes, after a fall. In fact, many falls happen in the home, and a few simple measures can keep you safe:
- Never wear slippers without a back. Ideally, use slippers designed like proper shoes with a Velcro® flap over the instep
- Never economise with low wattage light bulbs on stairways. In dim light, your perception of distance is affected and falls on stairs are very commo
- Avoid rugs which you can trip over
- When you think about buying electrical items like lamps, always think about where the flex will go. Arrange your furniture so the side table for the lamp is close to the plug. Large numbers of falls happen due to tripping over trailing wires
- Never get up too quickly, especially from lying in bed. Sit on the edge of the bed for a few minutes to prevent dizziness from lack of blood to the brain when you stand up quickly.
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.
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.