A group of older women doing balancing movements at a Healthy Balance Pilates session in Barnstaple. The session, which is outdoors surrounded by trees and nature, is a Connecting Actively to Nature (CAN) project and has been funded by Active Devon's CAN.

In Later Life Strength and Balance Activity Can Help Reduce the Risk of Falls

Whatever your role, we want to help you to help older people reduce their risk of falls by encouraging strength and balance activity.

Do You Support People in Later Life?

Maybe you’re a health professional, social prescriber or physical activity provider. Or a paid or unpaid carer, charity or community worker? Whatever your role or interaction with older people in Devon, this article aims to help you to help people reduce their risk of falls. We hope you find it useful and welcome you to get in touch if you want to find out more.

So, we all take a tumble from time to time, or at some point in our lives, but at what point does ‘falling over’ become ‘having a fall’? What is the difference and is the distinction important?

Falling over when we are younger is often a moment of comedy, at worst resulting in some embarrassment, and those familiar scabs and grazes on our knees, elbows and hands. Sometimes it may lead to a trip to Accident and Emergency but even then, as young people or young adults we heal quickly and move on with our lives and activities.

As we age though, the consequences of falling over can be much more serious. Our bones, muscles and tendons can be weaker, more prone to fractures and serious injury and we take longer to heal. Hip fractures and head injuries are common.

According to the NHS, in the guidance Falls: applying All Our Health:

Falls are the number one reason older people are taken to the emergency department of a hospital. Short and long-term outlooks for patients are generally poor following a hip fracture, with an increased one-year mortality of between 18% and 33% and negative effects on daily living activities such as shopping and walking.

Also, a review of long-term disability found:

Around 20% of hip fracture patients entered long-term care in the first year after fracture.

Why Does Physical Activity Matter?

As we get older staying strong and improving our balance can have a hugely positive impact in reducing the risk of having a fall.

If you have been involved with us at Active Devon, you will probably have come across the Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) guidelines for physical activity for adults and older adults. For years the main focus of this advice has been on the number of minutes of moderate activity we should be doing, and for good reason.

Walking, gardening, cycling and other activities that raise our heart rate and breathing can reduce the risk of many diseases and health conditions and help in their management allowing us to live longer, better lives and reducing the need for care as we age.

However, in September 2019 new physical activity guidelines were issued by UK Chief Medical Officers’. This included an emphasis on the importance of building strength and balance for adults. Here’s the infographic and text of the infographic, explaining how much strength and balance activity adults and older adults should be doing. We have also provided an image of this infographic below.

The Chief Medical Officer's guidelines for adults and older adults (19 and over) shows

The Chief Medical Officers’ physical activity guidelines for adults and older adults, (19 years and over).

Click on the image of the physical activity guidelines for adults and older adults (19 years and over) to get a closer look.

Read the text of the physical activity guidelines for adults and older adults infographic, (HTML) by clicking on this link.

How Can You Help?

You can help by increasing your knowledge and understanding and passing on key messages and information to those you engage with.

There are many ways someone can begin improving their strength and balance and reduce their risk of falling. The resources below outline some of these and contain guidance as to who they are most suited to.

Falls Management Exercise classes (FaME)

Falls Management Exercise classes (FaME) are evidence-based sessions aimed at older adults aged 65 or over who are at risk of falling, may have a fear of falling, have fallen but do not need medical investigations or are becoming concerned about their balance and more cautious towards activities they used to enjoy.

You can find more information and a list of FaME classes in Devon at Steady on your Feet Devon. Participants are assessed for suitability prior to taking part and can be referred and in some cases self-refer to classes.

Information for Professionals and the Public who Want to Get Stronger

Stronger My Way (Chartered Society of Physiotherapists) has information for professionals and the public who want to get stronger, with guidance for different health conditions and exercises to try at home.

Community Based Classes

Community based classes such as Tai Chi, yoga, dance, gardening, and lifting weights can all help improve strength and balance. Check the listings (and add your own) on Devon Connect or the JOY App (for GPs and social prescribers).

Thoughts From the Frontline

We asked Jane Reddaway, Occupational Therapist and Falls Prevention Lead (community) at Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust for her thoughts on this topic. Jane said:

“Falls can happen at any age, when older they can have a greater impact on independence and confidence. With the right programme of exercise, falls can be prevented, and confidence rebuilt. Knowing how to get back up from the floor is liberating and groups can teach this skill building up the strength required to get up, with the assistance of everyday objects for example.”

So, the distinction between having a fall and falling over is necessary, and there is good reason the language is different.

Perhaps we can look forward to a time when our older populations can bounce back quicker due to being stronger and you hear older people say, “I fell over” rather than “I had a fall”.

And of course, the importance of strength and balance applies to all of us, no matter our age. It is never too early or late to start, and doing something is always better than nothing.