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Stay Safe and Steady This Winter By Falls Assist UK

Winter is fast approaching. The days are getting lighter and the temperature is dropping. The run up to Christmas and Easter can be exciting to many people. However, winter is a particularly hazardous time for the elderly and vulnerable people. The drop in temperature not only exacerbates pre-existing medical conditions but also increases the risk of falls and associated injuries in the elderly population. Treacherous weather conditions increase incidents of slips and trips that can result in hip fractures and admission to hospitals. Even when a fall does not cause a serious injury, the fear of falling again often leads to reduced confidence, self-imposed limitations to mobility, depression and loss of independence. Nevertheless a fall in the elderly, especially during the winter months is not inevitable and the risk can be reduced or even prevented by making small changes to everyday life. It is important that older people plan in advance and have coping mechanisms in place for the coming winter months. Everyday tasks such as shopping for groceries or a visit to the GP which we take for granted, becomes a difficult task for the elderly, so it is important to include friends and family when planning for winter months. Top tips for winter: Keep warm: Though this would sound like repeating the obvious, not many people realise how important it is to keep warm and that health risks such as respiratory illnesses can be prevented by keeping warm. It is important to keep warm at all timeseven when it appears mild outdoors. Wear several thin layers of clothes rather than one thick layer. Clothes made with wool, cotton and fleecy materials are better. It is equally important to keep warm at night. Bed socks and hats may help. Keeping your home warm: Fit drought proofing around windows and doors. Insulate your home, energy companies are providing assistance with this so speak to your supplier. Ensure that the heating system has been serviced and is in good working order. If using wood burning, coal or gas heaters ensure there is adequate ventilation and that the chimney has been swept. Check that you know how to set the heating controls. Set your heating to come on early and keep the living room temperature at 21C (70F) and other rooms at 18C (64F). Ensure that your fire alarm is working. Claim for rightful benefits and grants towards insulation and winter fuel payments. Get your flu vaccination if possible. Some simple steps to preventing falls: Eat a healthy and balanced diet to maintain good bone health. Too many medication increases the risk of falls. Some medicines can make you faint and unsteady. Have your GP review your medication. Assistive aids such as walking frames and perching stools can help maintain independence in activities of daily living. Maintaining strength and flexibility is important. So keep moving. Light exercise will help. Reducing physical activity can increase the risk of falls. Poor vision can result in falls. Have your eyes tested regularly. Avoid alcohol (especially with medication) or cut down on the amount of alcohol consumed. It is important to maintain strength, balance and coordination. As well as increasing general fitness, balance training is one of the most proven and cost effective ways to reduce falls. A


trained physiotherapist specialising in this area can help you improve your balance. Balance exercises can be made simple and enjoyable. Wear appropriate footwear. Thin soled flat shoes are better for balance and walking. Keep your feet healthy. Foot problems can affect a person's balance and stability. Ask your chiropodist for advice and have regular foot check-ups. Check your home environment for hazards, particularly trip hazards such as loose carpets, mats and trailing cords. Ensure that the stairs and landing have good lighting and fit stair rails or grab rails where required and use them when going up and down the stairs. Think about how you can rearrange furniture to improve access. Keep stairs and corridors free of clutter. Giving pets bright coloured collars will make them easily noticeable. Non-slip mats and rugs in bathrooms and kitchens provide safer access. Consider using a bathboard fitted across the bath instead of stepping into the bath. Well placed hand rails also help getting in and out of the bath easier and safer. If you have a high step into your property consider installing a hand rail next to the door and a half step to make access easier. Keep porches and garden pathways clear of grass, moss and other clutter. The small things that make the big difference: Try not to sit in one position for too long as you may get stiff. Keep changing positions and tense and relax your arms and legs a few times in between. Try to maintain good posture and ensure that your back is well supported when seated. If you feel faint when you stand up (this may be due to your blood pressure suddenly dropping) ensure you take your time when you move and avoid sitting up or standing up too quickly. This is especially important at night as you could be disoriented. Sit up on the edge of the bed for a few seconds before standing up and also stand for a few seconds before you start walking. If you have to use the toilet several times at night due to medication, think about alternatives such as a commode next to your bedside. Ensure there is adequate night lighting in the bedroom and corridors. Always feel the chair or bed behind both legs before you sit down. This will ensure that you are square with the chair or bed and prevent you from sitting on the floor. This is one of the reasons why elderly people fall. If you have difficulty getting up from a low chair, have the chair raised. Shuffling forward to the edge of the chair and leaning forward while pushing down on the arms of the chair will help you from leaning backwards or over balancing. If you use a walking aid, ensure you use it correctly. Erratic use of walking aids increase the risk of falls. If you have difficulty carrying things with you while walking indoors, use a kitchen trolley with brakes to transport food or other heavier objects. Outdoor walkers may also be used, but always try them first before you purchase one. It's better to get a family member or employ someone for tasks like changing light bulbs and cleaning high windows and blinds if you feel unsteady on your feet. If you have a fall at home: Do not panic, stay calm and focused. If you are unhurt and feel you can get up, ease yourself onto your elbows. Then move onto your hands and feet and hold onto a firm surface such as a chair to support yourself. Then facing the chair ease yourself to a standing position, turn yourself gently and sit on the chair. If you feel you are hurt and cannot get up, shout for help or bang on the wall with your stick or shoe. Use your pendant alarm if you have one or crawl to a telephone and call


for help. If you fall on a hard floor, try to move to a carpeted area. Reach for something (like a blanket or coat) to cover you. Find a nearby pillow or roll up some clothes to use as one. Try to move away from droughts and from direct heat like fires and radiators. Keep moving, roll from side to side and move your arms and legs and avoid staying in one position while you are waiting to be helped. Always tell your GP or carer about your fall. Many falls are not reported by older people or their caregivers due to the misconception that falls are inevitable with old age, which is not the case. Often, older people themselves are unaware of their risks of falling, nor do they report the presence of risk factors to others who might be able to help. Falls can be prevented or the risk minimized if the reason behind a person's falls can be identified. This can be accomplished by a thorough and comprehensive assessment and the development of an individualized plan of intervention, support and education. Falls is a complex area as there is often not one reason that may cause a person to fall and the reasons may range from a simple trip on a loose mat to the more serious cardiac problems. There is good research evidence which shows the effectiveness of different interventions to reduce the risk and impact of falls amongst older people. Evidence shows that a multifactorial intervention which incorporates exercises designed to improve strength and balance and safety changes at home can lead to a reduction in falls. The author is a rehabilitation expert at Falls Assist UK. Falls Assist UK has a growing network of highly qualified health professionals that employ a variety of tools to perform a multifactorial comprehensive assessment and provide a proven programme that helps to reduce the risk of falls. www.fallsassist.com


Stay Safe and Steady This Winter