Older people

As we get older there are steps that we can all take to keep both mentally and physically fit.

There is a lot of information available from both the NHS and Cornwall Council about how you can help yourself and how to get the support you need to do this.

For Health Information for the over 60s please see the NHS Choices pages here and you will be taken to a section on NHS choices.

If you would like more specific local information, please see Cornwall Council's older people webpages here. You can also find useful information on our site on specific health topics, such as stroke and dementia, which often occur in the later years.

Falls-related injuries

You may also find yourself at increased risk of a fall as you get older. Falls are a common but often overlooked source of injury and, unfortunately in some cases, death. Older adults over the age of 65 are one of the groups most at risk.

Having a fall can result in a hospital stay and difficulties with getting about for months afterwards. It can seriously affect your quality of life afterwards by eroding independence.

At least a third of people aged over 65 will fall each year nationally. In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which has a significantly higher number of older people than the UK average, this means up to 58,000 people are likely to fall every year, with up to 2,900 requiring hospital treatment.

Understanding why we fall is key to prevention. The natural process of ageing can often place older adults at an increased risk of having a fall. There are three reasons for this which are outlined below.

  1. Older people are more likely to have chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, dementia, or low blood pressure (hypotension). Dizziness is a common. symptom of low blood pressure. These conditions can increase the risk of a fall
  2. Older people are more likely to have impairments, such as poor vision, or muscle weakness.
  3. Older people are more likely to have disabilities that can affect their balance

Among older adults, some of the most common reasons for accidental falls include:

  • Falling, or slipping, in the bathroom
  • Falling, or slipping, due to dim light
  • Falling, or slipping, on rugs, or carpets, that are not properly secured, or on floors that were wet, or recently polished
  • Falling, or slipping, when reaching for storage areas, such as cupboards
  • Falling, or slipping, down the stairs

Another common cause, particularly among older men, is falling from a ladder while carrying out home maintenance work.

Falls can also sometimes occur as a result of health reasons. Some common health reasons linked to falling include:

  • Loss of balance due to disability, or muscle weakness
  • A sudden episode of dizziness
  • A sudden, brief loss of consciousness, due to an underlying health condition, such as a heart condition, or low blood sugar (a brief loss of consciousness is known as a drop attack)
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Visual impairment

Falls can sometimes be particularly troublesome for older women, as osteoporosis (thinning and weakening of the bones) is a common problem in this population. Osteoporosis is caused by hormonal changes that occur during the menopause (when a woman's periods stop).

Helping yourself

Stay healthy

  • Take regular exercise, even a short walk or light gardening, to keep muscles strong and joints supple. If you haven’t done any exercise for a while, or you have an existing health condition, talk to your GP first
  • Have an annual eye check and make sure your glasses are cleaned regularly: eye tests are free for over 60s
  • If you take four or more medications, ask your GP or pharmacist to review them and ask about possible side effects
  • Eat more dairy produce, tinned boned fish, green leafy vegetables, pulses and nuts, and try to get a little sunshine (weather permitting!) to increase your daily intake of calcium and vitamin D
  • Eat regular meals to keep up your strength and energy
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Keep warm in cold weather
  • Above all, if you do have a fall - even if you don’t hurt yourself - tell your GP

 Safety at home

  • Make sure your shoes and slippers fit well and your toenails are cut regularly
  • Never leave things on the stairs and keep walkways free of clutter
  •  Make sure your home has good lighting, particularly on stairs and steps
  • Remove trip hazards such as loose rugs, frayed carpets, trailing wires
  • To avoid dizziness, get out of bed or up from a chair in slow stages and wait a moment before moving away
  • Fit hand/grab rails where needed e.g. stairs, steps, in the bathroom. Age Concern or your local Handyperson scheme may be able to give practical help with this – see below
  • Keep items that you use frequently within easy reach to avoid bending and reaching
  • Don’t rush! take your time moving to answer the telephone or the door
  • Turn on a light or a torch when getting out of bed at night
  • Use a non-slip mat in the bath

If you do fall

  • Call for help: use your lifeline alarm if you have one, crawl to a telephone, or make a loud noise to attract attention
  • Keep warm: cover up with anything in reach, like a rug, blanket, or towel
  • Keep moving: move the parts of your body that don’t hurt, to relieve pressure. If you are on a hard floor, try to move to an area with carpet or a rug
  • Try to get up: if you can, roll onto your hands and knees, crawl to a solid piece of furniture and use it to help you up

Home hazard assessment

If you are concerned that you, or a relative, may be at risk of having a fall, or if they have recently experienced a fall, you may wish to request a home hazard assessment to identify potential hazards, and get advice about how to deal with them. You should contact your local authority and/or your GP to see what help is available in your local area.

Medication review

If you are concerned that the side effects of medication that you, or your relative, is taking is putting you (or them) at an increased risk of a fall, you can request a medication review with your GP. There may be alternative medications that you can use, or the dose of your current medication could be lowered or, in some cases, stopped altogether.

Sight tests

If you are concerned that poor vision is increasing your risk of having a fall, you should make an appointment to have a sight test so that your vision can be tested and assessed. Although not all causes of age-related visual impairment can be treated, a number can. For example, surgery is an effective treatment for cataracts (a common age-related eye condition where cloudy patches develop over the lens of the eye).

See if Inclusion Cornwall can work for you?

Inclusion Cornwall provides a free service through a range of partners offering a variety of activities and support depending on your needs. They can help you improve your health and employment prospects and can offer the right information and support at the right time to improve the quality of your life. Contact them to find out more on: