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Take steps to prevent falls

Taking precautions to prevent avoidable falls should be a major consideration for us all, and particularly anyone over the age of 50. And as one Probus Club member was recently reminded, staying away from step ladders is a good place to start 


Reenactment: Probian John Comber recently fell off his stepladder while trimming some overhead branches

The fear of falling, and the likelihood of experiencing a fall, typically increases with age.

Tripping on a raised surface like a rug, slipping on a wet floor, or taking a tumble while trying to change a light bulb – simple incidents that happen in seconds, yet could have serious or even life-changing consequences.

With that warning in mind, it’s extremely important to factor the prevention of falls into your everyday life and decision-making. 

Avoid falls, not fun

But avoiding the risk of a costly fall doesn’t have to mean avoiding odd jobs or physical exertion altogether. Quite the opposite, in fact. Maintaining an active lifestyle helps keep your muscles strong and your joints, tendons and ligaments more flexible, while low-impact activities like walking or playing lawn bowls may slow bone loss from osteoporosis. 

Rather than being permanently idle, effectively preventing falls is all about good preparation (both physical and mental), combined with a healthy awareness of danger. It’s rare that falls and accidents “just happen”. In other words, the onus is on you to look after your body, always consider your surroundings and generally take extra care than you might have a few decades ago.  

The following tips can help you avoid falls, broken bones and trips to hospital: 

  • Stay as physically active as possible. Continue exercising regularly and enjoying appropriate leisure activities, as a stronger body is less susceptible to sudden falls.  
  • Look after your eyes and ears. Changes to your sight and hearing can cause you to fall, so get tested and always wear your glasses, contact lenses or hearing aid as required.
  • Mention any side-effects. If the medicine you take causes side-effects like drowsiness, dizziness or confusion, tell your doctor. 
  • Don’t rush. When your blood pressure drops you might feel a little wobbly, so take your time and get up slowly if you’ve been sitting or lying down.  
  • Watch your alcohol consumption. It’s no secret that alcohol can impact your balance and reflexes. Drink in moderation!  
  • Use your assistive devices. If you’ve been advised to use a cane or walker for steadiness, make sure you pick the right size and don’t forget to take it with you. 
  • Support your feet. Many types of surfaces can be slippery. Wear safe shoes with soles that won’t skid, rather than backless shoes or high heels.
  • Report all falls to your doctor. If you’ve had a recent fall, even a minor one that didn’t cause injury, tell your doctor at your next check-up. 

Even if you’re fit, healthy and highly coordinated, remember a fall can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime – often when you least expect it.  

Here are three basic rules for proactively preventing falls:

  1. Don’t climb anything that’s potentially unstable or might cause you to lose balance.
  2. Don’t take unnecessary risks – if in doubt, find an alternative solution.
  3. Ask for help from younger friends, family members, neighbours, etc. 

Climbing dangers

John Comber, an active member of Forest Hill (Men’s) Probus Club, recently learned a valuable falls prevention lesson the hard way. John keeps a small, three-rung step ladder in his garage for reaching overhead shelves. The ladder may only stand 60cm tall, but as he discovered, falling from even a relatively low height can be dangerous. 

“I was trimming some low overhead branches in our backyard using this little ladder on smooth concrete, which worked quite well,” he explains.

“My troubles began when I moved it to the lawn area. Stepping on the top level, I was suddenly thrown off, landing on the lawn with a deep gash and swollen left leg. The little ladder was now cocked over with its left ‘leg’ sunken well into the soft lawn, which happened when I put my full weight on the top level.”

The accident occurred on a Friday morning, so John nursed his injured leg in a horizontal position over the weekend. However, as the swelling had still not receded by Monday morning, he wisely sought professional medical treatment. 

Thankfully, an x-ray confirmed the leg wasn’t broken or fractured. With the wound dressed, John’s leg was fitted with a full-length compression stocking. Treatment continued with two visits per week over a three-week recovery period to keep the wound clean, while the compression stocking had to be worn throughout to help reduce the swelling. 

Aware that the outcome could have been worse, John has a message to share with his peers: “We’re often told that those over 50 shouldn’t climb ladders,” he says. “The first response is usually to ask, ‘Why not?’. Well, the answer is simple – because you might fall off!”