What is a fall?
A fall is generally defined as an event that results in a person inadvertently coming to rest on the ground, floor, or lower level. While that definition doesn’t sound too dramatic, falls can lead to serious injuries, especially in the elderly.
Most falls are a result of slips and trips on a level surface, and the majority of injuries are to the head, hip, or forearm. While falls are always unfortunate, almost all falls are predictable and preventable.
An important part of preventing falls is identifying risk factors. A risk factor is something that increases a person’s chances of falling.
As you age, the number of risk factors usually increases, and existing factors become greater. It is said that there are two main types of risk factors, intrinsic (personal) or extrinsic (environmental factors). Intrinsic factors relate to individual characteristics such as age, gender, ability, and health conditions. Extrinsic factors can refer to hazards found at home or in public, such as uneven surfaces or the lack of a handrail.
Intrinsic risk factors you can work on improving include:
- Balance confidence (the fear of falling)
- Impaired balance or walking patterns
- Visual impairment and poor reaction times
- Reduced muscle mass and strength
- Use of medications such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants, anti-psychotics, and psychoactive medications.
SportsCare’s physiotherapists can help you identify your personal risk factors, and work with you to create a plan to best reduce falls risks.
A number of studies show that physical activity is the most effective falls prevention strategy. The types of physical activity that can be most effective are exercises such as Tai Chi, balance, walking training, and strength exercises.
Building muscle mass through strength training is the best intervention for improving sarcopenia (wasting muscles), but in isolation this has not been proven to reduce falls.
Any physical activity program should be specifically tailored to an individual’s needs, including exercise that challenges balance. It is recommended to be done twice weekly for at least 6 months to observe improvement.
You are never too old to start taking part in physical activity and feeling the associated health benefits. Sometimes taking the first step can be the biggest challenge, but studies show that older people who participate in physical activity are able to do more and felt more positively about their social identity.
Often described as ‘meditation in motion’, Tai Chi (Tàijí in Chinese) is an internal Chinese martial art practiced for its defence training, health benefits and meditation.
Tai Chi is low-impact and slow-motion, meaning it is an attractive option for people who may not be in their best shape or health, or individuals who have reduced strength or balance. It also improves balance confidence and lower limb strength, both of which are in the top five improvable risk factors associated with falls.
SportsCare and Physiotherapy run a physio-led Tai Chi program, working with people’s individual needs to help them gain confidence and ability. If you’re interested in joining a class, mention it to your physio next time you see them.
Our physiotherapists can also assist you with individualised falls prevention screening assessments and recommendations to reduce risks of falls, gait aid prescription, and strength and balance groups.
Useful resources on falls prevention