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Reducing the risk of falls as you age

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Ageing is inevitable, but there are many things you can do to ensure you remain on your feet and at less risk of a fall, explains St John national referrals coordinator Lianne Pepperell.

Our retirement years are some of the best of our life and should be a time to enjoy playing with the grandkids, being active and remaining independent and on our own two feet. Sadly though, 20 per cent of older people restrict their activities due to a fear of falling.

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Falls can have a huge impact on confidence and, in more serious cases, result in injuries such as fractures.

Our St John Medical Alarm team know all too well the effect of falls, and call-outs for fall related injuries are far too common. Each year one in three people aged 65 and over will fall, and the risk increases to one in two for those aged over 80. The good news, though, is that there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of a fall.

Here are five things we recommend:

1. Stay active

Maintaining your strength and balance will have the biggest long-term impact on reducing your risk of a fall. But that doesn’t mean you have to start lifting heavy weights! Instead it’s all about maintaining your ability to do everyday movements such climb stairs or get in and out of a chair.

Balance is also really important in everyday activities, but it’s often something we take for granted. Better balance means more confidence to move well and a decreased fear of falling.

So where to start? We recommend finding an approved community strength and balance class. They’re low-cost and include simple but effective exercises that improve leg strength and balance. Best of all they’re fun, social and safe. They’re also approved by ACC as part of the nationwide Live Stronger for Longer initiative.

2. Assess the trip hazards around your home

As lovely as they are, rugs can be a serious trip hazard. If you have a rug that slides when you walk on it then try anchoring it in place with anti-slip mats. And if you have a rug that is frayed at the edge, rolled up at the corner or wrinkled and lumpy in the middle, then it may be time to repair, donate or replace it. As nice as those rugs may be, you don’t want them to trip you up.

3. Improve home lighting

One of the simplest and most effective ways you can fall-proof your home is to make sure there’s enough lighting. If your lights aren’t bright enough or lighting the right area then try using lamps to illuminate those places that your ceiling lights don’t reach. You can also increase the wattage on your bulbs.

We also recommend installing light switches at the top and bottom of stairs.

4. Make your spaces work for you

Storing day-to-day objects in easy to reach places means you don’t have to be constantly bending and reaching. For those hard to reach places, consider getting a hand-reacher or using a sturdy and safe step-ladder.

5. Handrails save lives

Having something to hold on to as you climb up or down the stairs can dramatically reduce your risk of a serious fall. A good handrail is sturdy and extends beyond the last step.

A well-placed handrail is also an excellent investment for the bathroom if you can’t get in and out of the bath and shower or off the toilet easily.

Want to know more?

On Wednesday 4 September, St John will be speaking at a free morning tea organised by Sport Bay of Plenty on how to live stronger for longer and reduce your risk of a fall.

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What: Living Stronger for Longer morning tea

When: Wednesday 4 September, 10am to 12 noon

Where: Otumoetai Baptist Church, 241 Otumoetai Road

All welcome. Please register to attend by contacting Simone Rose on 021 171 8831 or

St John referrals

St John offer referrals to our service for patients that have fallen in their home or are deemed to be high risk for falls. Lianne wants you to feel safe in your own home and to help you remain independent at home for as long as possible, so if you, a friend or a family member has fallen, please push your medical alarm or dial 111 for assistance to get back to your feet if you need it.

The St John Medical Alarm team is also available to assist with home safety checks. Contact the team on 0800 50 23 23.

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