We fall in love, fall to pieces, fall asleep, fall out with family and friends and fall for silly pranks played by jokers, but falling can be dangerous. Fiona McDonald reports.

Falling ...

Casual internet research can lead one to fall down rabbit holes and discover a host of fascinating things you’d normally never think about. Like falling.

The Oxford dictionary defines falling as “moving from a higher to a lower level, typically rapidly and without control”. Alternatively it also means decreasing in number, amount, intensity or quality. The impact of falling stock markets, for example, is keenly felt around the world ...

But the physical fall is more dangerous and deadly than people think. Everyone’s experienced a tumble at some point – from an untied shoelace, an uneven sidewalk or an animal underfoot, but (pre-Covid) falling was the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injury in older adults. Apparently, death from a fall occurs around every 19 minutes in the United States!

More than 25% of all people over the age of 65 fall at least once a year – and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the chances of falling again double after the first spill. To a younger person, it’s not a big deal to pick themselves up and carry on. Because of the decline in muscle strength, balance and also the rise in bone fragility, age-related falls cause more serious injury: broken hips, legs, dislocated shoulders and the like.

But it’s not the physical trauma which is the most serious consequence: even if there’s no physical harm, an elderly person’s psychological wellbeing can be affected and that, in turn, impacts their health and social interactions. Increased fear of falling can create a reluctance to go out and be active which then leads to social isolation, depression and further physical decline.

Factors putting older folks at risk include medical and orthopaedic issues – along with the medications they’re on; age-related loss of hearing or vision and awareness of body position and changes in balance and muscle strength.

"the best advice applies to people of all ages: to be aware of your surroundings and look at what’s ahead ..."

But all of these can be mitigated and the chances of a fall minimised. The first step, according to geriatricians, is to exercise regularly in order to retain as much muscle and leg strength as possible. Tai chi is a wonderful low-impact way to improve balance – and there’s also the social element of being with friends during an exercise session. Even something as simple as standing on one leg while brushing the teeth or washing dishes can help improve balance!

Similarly, regular hearing and vision checks can help to be aware of any physical danger which others might shout or signal a warning about. It’s also advisable to discuss medications with a doctor. Blood pressure pills, for example, could have a dizzying effect and the dosage might need to be amended.

The final suggestion by experts is the most straight forward: review the physical environment. Reassess furniture in any room which parents or grandparents may walk through. Are there lots of side tables, chairs at awkward angles or with sharp edges and are there rugs, mats or carpets which are a trip hazard? What about piles of books or magazines on surfaces which might be knocked over – and then tripped over? Are there any cables to air conditioners, heaters, lamps or even computers snaking about?

Remember that tiles and smooth surfaces can literally be deadly if walking on them in socks or if water is spilled. So mop up any puddles or spills straight away.

Probably the best advice applies to people of all ages: to be aware of your surroundings and look at what’s ahead rather than at a cell phone screen or device. And there is also no shame in using a cane or walking stick should the need arise. It’s far less embarrassing than sprawling face first on the pavement!