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Don’t fall for a broken hip

Wellbeing

Don’t fall for a broken hip

More than 18,000 Australians suffer a fractured hip each year. KENDALL MORTON discusses why we become more prone to falling, and what can be done.

Less than 30 per cent of those who suffer a fractured hip go home directly from hospital;  one-third are transferred to another hospital and 8.5 per cent go into residential care, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Canberra Report for 2015-2016 found.

For older citizens, about 25 per cent of hip fractures resulted in death. Of the survivors, about one-third never regain complete mobility, according to the Australian and New Zealand Falls Prevention Society. So, why do seniors fall and what can be done about it?

According to the authors of Younger Next Year for Women, Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, you do not stumble more often but the ability to recover footing is reduced.  This happens because, firstly, proprioception or awareness of where your body is in space, deteriorates slightly with age, which slows down reaction time.

Secondly, muscles may be weaker and not strong enough to work against the fall of gravity and regain balance. With lower bone density, the likelihood of a fracture is higher.

One risk factor in falling is the fear of falling. Older Australians, especially those who have had a serious fall, tend to be cautious and avoid activity. This becomes a vicious circle as confidence is lost and movement is avoided.

They become weaker, more dependent and consequently less confident and less able. This cycle is common.

Queensland data shows that of those seniors who have fallen, 29-92 per cent have a fear of falling.

Some older folk develop a shuffling walk thinking this will keep them safer. This gait can actually cause falls.

With your feet close together your base of balance is smaller. Also, you are more likely to trip on mats and uneven surfaces. The answer is to practise controlled stepping but not stretch out too much, as this can be risky too.

Shuffling can also be the result of medication or ill-fitting footwear. There are other medical reasons for shuffling which your doctor can address.

Anyone inclined to shuffle shouldn’t wear joggers as they can catch on the floor and cause trips and tumbles.

You may think the answer is to stay at home in familiar surrounds but 48 per cent of hip fractures happen at home.

To reduce falls, address the internal factors such as medication and strength and the environmental risk factors. Start some strength training and balance work.

Hold a chair and stand on one leg for 15 seconds. To strengthen your legs, do 5-10 knee bends a few times a day. Always hold on to a stable surface.

Look for ways to increase your activity at home and to use the muscle strength you have. Consider getting an assessment from an exercise physiologist who can design a home program for you.

See your doctor. Low blood pressure can cause dizziness.

Multiple medications can affect your balance and lead to a shuffling walk. Impaired vision is another risk factor so get your vision tested each year.

Environmental factors that increase the risk of falls include throw rugs, items left on the floor and poor lighting. Toss out the rugs or tape them down.

Check that light switches are easy to reach at night.

Use a torch or a night light to get to the bathroom at night. Highlight changes of floor surface or steps with yellow tape if needed.

Keep tables and kitchen benches free of clutter. If someone falls, a counter loaded with magazines will not give them any support. Think about the pathways to and around each room. Where items of furniture can be removed, do so.

Make the bathroom safer by installing grip rails in strategic places. Towel rails are not enough as they can collapse under a person’s full weight. Add some non-slip mats and check that cosmetics and other items are easily reached and in one area.

The key message here is that many falls can be prevented.

Start today – stay healthy and active, maintain your strength and balance and address the hazards in your home.

 Kendall Morton is the director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email kmorton@homecareassistance.com

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