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Fall Prevention Strategies

November is Fall Prevention Month. In case you’re wondering why fall prevention gets a commemorative month, it might surprise you to learn a few stats. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations among Canadian seniors - between 20% and 30% of seniors fall each year. Falls are the direct cause of 95% of all hip fractures, which lead to death in 20% of cases. Over ⅓ of people who are admitted to long-term care are admitted after being hospitalized following a fall.

Why? Being in hospital puts seniors at risk of developing infections, and losing the strength and mobility they need to do things like walk and take care of themselves. Studies of healthy young adults have shown a 15% loss in muscle mass following 1 week of bed rest (which seniors frequently experience while hospitalized following a fall), which increases to nearly 50% muscle loss after 3-5 weeks of bed rest - and it’s estimated that seniors experience 3-6 times this rate of muscle loss.

One major risk factor for falls is weak leg muscles, and for seniors who are already experiencing leg weakness, winding up on bedrest after breaking a hip often causes them to lose the strength they need to be able to do things like get off the toilet or get into the shower by themselves - hence the high rate of long-term care admissions.

A senior is hurt after falling on the floor

Onto the good news. Most falls are PREVENTABLE. The Australian Stay On Your Feet Campaign has a handy slogan for fall prevention: Move-Improve-Remove. MOVE refers to doing strengthening exercises 2-3 days per week, and practicing balance exercises several days per week. Research has shown that women in their 70’s who combined strength & balance training 3 times a week for a year were 70% less likely to be injured in falls than peers who didn’t exercise. IMPROVE refers to maintaining good health by doing things like having your medications reviewed regularly and discussing any side effects (such as dizziness or fatigue, for example), being socially active, reducing sedentary time, eating a healthy diet, having your vision and hearing checked regularly, and keeping your teeth healthy. REMOVE refers to removing hazards that might cause falls - by doing things like installing grab bars in the bathroom, installing sturdy rails beside the stairs into your home, turning on the lights when you get up to pee at night, and getting rid of things you might trip over (like loose cords, rugs, and clutter).

Wondering where to start? The South Shore is home to lots of fantastic seniors’ exercise classes, gyms, personal trainers, and physiotherapists who can help you get started with strengthening & balance exercise, regardless of your age or current level of physical fitness. Fitness can significantly improve at any age, and with any number of health conditions - I regularly see people in their 90’s and even over 100 years old make significant improvements in strength and balance after a few weeks of regular exercise. It’s never too late to improve your health or mobility, and it’s never too early to start thinking about preventing falls. If you’re in your 50’s or 60’s, starting a regular routine of strengthening and balance exercise can help you maintain good bone density, prevent falls on icy winter sidewalks, and lower your risk of falls and other injuries as you age. Consider commemorating fall prevention month by thinking about how to make strengthening and balance exercise a regular part of your life. Your older self will thank you!

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