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Staying on your feet

Falling in old age is very common. It is known that about one in three older adults falls at least once every year and about a quarter of these falls result in substantial injuries requiring medical attention.

What causes falls?

“Falls in older people have many different causes”, says Dr Kim Delbaere, Associate Professor and Principal Research Scientist at Neuroscience Research Australia. “For example, wearing multifocal glasses whilst walking can blur your vision when looking down and make you trip. Even taking sleeping tablets can make you unsteady on your feet, particularly when you need to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom”.

TIP: Replace your multifocal glasses with single lens glasses while walking around the house and outside, and be extra careful if you’ve taken a sleeping aid or prescription medication known to cause drowsiness. 

What are the risk factors?

“There is now solid evidence that well-designed exercise programs can improve balance and reduce falls in older people,” says Dr Delbaere. “The most effective exercise programs include challenging balance training and are performed for two to three hours a week. Long-term adherence to such a program can nearly halve the risk of falling.”

Dr Delbaere suggests “joining an exercise class in your local area, such as Thai Chi or yoga. Your GP might be able to recommend an exercise class for falls prevention, or you can ask your exercise physiologist of physiotherapist to prescribe home exercises.”

Advice for our readers

At Neuroscience Research Australia, Dr Delbaere and her team are using tablet computers (iPads) to help older Australians stay physically and mentally active, improve their balance and prevent falls. Her current research study, Standing Tall, uses modern technology to deliver a home-based, engaging, and motivating exercise program to older adults.

If you live in Sydney and are interested in participating in a falls prevention study, please call 02 9399 1888 or email [email protected]More information on the NeuRA Falls, Balance and Injury Research Centre can be found here.