Just the other day, I found out that my aged Mother (84 years young) had tripped and taken a fall on her way to the bus stop. She had caught her toe on an uneven pavement and came out of it bruised and bashed but otherwise OK. On this occasion she was lucky, as the consequences could have been a lot worse.
The risk of falling over is greatly increased when we are walking on rough footpaths and climbing or descending over uneven ground. Personally, I have found my balance has become worse as I have grown older and I find myself looking to ways to improve my balance.
In recent years I have taken up the use of trekking poles and have become increasingly dependent on them, especially when walking over rough terrain. However, there are other steps we can take to help improve our chances of avoiding a fall.
This is my six top tips to help prevent falls:
With age, our muscle strength weakens, and this can have a direct impact on our balance. On average we will lose about 1% of our muscle mass each year. It is therefore important that we do all we can to keep our muscle strength up. This is best achieved by staying active.
There are some simple ways to stay active. Walk to the shops or work, park further away, take the stairs rather than the lift. Take up swimming or one of the fitness classes organised for older people.
The more we maintain our muscle fitness the better will be our posture, co-ordination and balance. As a result, it will help prevent falls.
You may not initially think of this as a cause of falls, but your eyesight is crucial in helping create your spatial awareness. If you cannot provide a clear visual input, your brain will not be able to provide the necessary balance information to the rest of your body.
It is therefore very important, not just for walking, that we keep up to date with eyesight tests and make sure we have the correct glasses if necessary. You may not think you need glasses, but it is still worth getting your eyes tested because failing sight slowly creeps up on all of us.
Again, the ear is a crucial element in the brain spatial awareness functionality. Not so much as a result of hearing, although this is important, but because of what lies inside the inner ear. The semi-circular canals are three tiny, fluid-filled tubes that help you keep your balance.
Any ear infection, or even a common cold, can have an adverse effect on the functionality of these canals and so impair your balance.
The interaction in your brain between the inputs from the eyes and semi-circular canals provides vital information which can help to prevent falls. Remove or impair one of these two elements and your brain can receive confusing information. This in turn could lead to motion sickness and disorientation.
I was very surprised that after the long hot summer of 2018, I was diagnosed with very low Vitamin D (usually associated with lack of sunlight!). I discovered from my GP, that it was a DNA thing and not necessarily associated with the sun. But more importantly, I also discovered that low Vitamin D usually means low Calcium – crucial for bone health and growth.
I would urge that next time you see you Doctor, ask them for a Vitamin D and Calcium check as there appears to be something of a pandemic at the moment. It is vital that you keep your levels up to help maintain your calcium levels. Make sure that you are eating a good calcium rich diet and taking plenty of exercise.
It would seem very obvious that the correct type of footwear will impact on your balance, but this is often overlooked. This also applies to the general health of your feet. Calluses, corns, ingrown toenails, blisters can all create issues when it comes to balance and so pre-empt a trip or fall.
If you have concerns about the health of your feet, speak to your Doctor or your Chiropodist/Podiatrist. Keep your toes nails short and remove any hard skin.
Make sure that you are wearing correctly fitted and appropriate footwear for the type of walking that you are doing. Good shoes or sandals are fine for regular pavements but if you are going off ‘piste’ then you will need good quality walking boots or shoes.
Get your shoes/boots fitted by a professional, make sure they are comfortable and provide support. Avoid heels and make sure they have a good grip. Keep your footwear clean and at the first sign of damage or wear, get them replaced.
If, like many, you are taking medication on a regular basis, be aware that these may have an impact on your balance. Some medications can cause dizziness or make you feel faint, if this is the case, then refer to your Doctor as soon as possible.
We need to be more meticulous and careful as we get older to ensure we do not fall or trip. Maintain a good exercise regime in order to maintain our core strength and get regular eye, ear, feet and blood checks in order to maintain the best possible health levels.
Never be afraid or too proud to use a trekking pole or walking stick, if you need one then you need one no matter how ‘uncool’ it might look. There are plenty of colour coordinated and fashionable trekking poles available these days.