Living in Balance… or How to Prevent Falls
By Michèle Sirois, collaborator at the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal and presenter at Ère Libre, MAtv
Are you afraid of falling? Do frozen sidewalks, snow-covered stairs and poorly lit places make you afraid of slipping and fracturing a limb? Well, you’re not alone. Even if everyone falls sometimes – children, adults and the elderly – seniors may, after a fall, have more serious consequences, both physically and psychologically.
Some revealing statistics
In Quebec, every year, one third of people aged 65 and over fall. After 80 years old, half of people experience at least one fall. Many individuals who have taken a fall recover without physical damage other than scratches or bruises. However, nearly 25% of them experience moderate to severe injuries. These falls have consequences on autonomy and quality of life. One especially notable statistic is that 20% of the 6000 or so people who experience a hip fracture each year in Quebec die from it.
The researcher and professor Johanne Filiatrault1 has been studying the subject of falls among the elderly for several years now. This research has led her, among other things, to develop fall prevention programs. And in a public conference, she presented a new special program at Le Groupe Maurice à l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal amphitheatre.
Although there are already specific exercise programs in Quebec to maintain and improve balance among seniors, Ms. Filiatrault believes that an important aspect must be added to the offer of services: overcoming the fear of falling.
Thus the new Living in Balance program explores three main axes:
- Fear of falling;
- Risk factors for falls;
- Ways to reduce the risk of falling.
Fear of falling
Fear of falling is widespread among seniors, not just those who have already fallen. Even people who have never experienced such an incident can develop an excessive fear of taking a nosedive. However, the effects of the fear of falling may become more important than the fall itself. This fear, which can be disproportionate in some cases, is explained by the fact that a senior may feel that their body is more vulnerable than before. Thus, to avoid a fall and its consequences, many will decrease their activities, their social participation and even their links with the outside. A vicious circle can thus be created. This reduction in activity will result in a premature decrease in strength, balance and flexibility and increase the risk of falling.
That’s why the Living in Balance program tackles persistent false beliefs like “I’m sure I’m going to fall, everyone falls when they get older” or “It’s better if I don’t go out, it’s too dangerous.” The goal is not to minimize the risk of falling, but to develop a balanced perspective and a vision adapted to each situation. Thus, participants will be more inclined to continue their activities. And that’s a good thing, because the body is made to move!
A few ways to reduce the risk of falling
It’s important for everyone to practice physical activity, regardless of age. In doing so, we maintain muscular strength, balance, endurance and flexibility, which are all so important for safe mobility.
The point is to move, yes, but depending on our abilities and limits! This could mean agreeing to slow down and being more vigilant in our movements.
And since half of falls occur at home (or in the immediate environment), another key factor is adapting our homes.
- Free spaces of clutter to move around safely.
- Ensure good lighting by installing switches at the entrance to each room. Don’t forget the outdoor stairs, where a motion detector can be installed!
- Make sure we can easily reach the emergency services in the event of a fall.
One factor that is important to remember is that if we take medication, it’s recommended to be more vigilant. Indeed, several classes of drugs significantly increase the risk of falls. These include drugs that treat anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes or heart failure. It’s always advisable to check with the pharmacist when a new medication is prescribed.
To find out more about preventing falls http://www.iugm.qc.ca/sante-aines/infochute.html
Would you like to become a group facilitator in your community?
Who can best understand how aging changes mobility? Who might experience the fear of falling? A senior, of course! That’s why the Living in Balance program relies on seniors to facilitate groups.
Facilitators are chosen according to their interests and abilities and are then trained. Upon completion of their two-day training, each facilitator can organize and deliver Living in Balance sessions in their community or residence. The researcher confided to us that it was very easy to recruit volunteer facilitators to test this way of teaching. She saw once again the important role seniors can and should play in their communities.
If you’re interested in becoming a facilitator in the Living in Balance program, the Centre AvantÂge will offer the facilitator training in 2019. Look up the programming at http://centreavantage.ca/activites/formation-de-multiplicateurs/
In conclusion, Ms. Filiatrault revealed the results of the evaluation of the program that had just been tested in 12 senior residences. These positive results suggest that Living in Balance will restore the confidence of seniors in their daily activities by developing their ability to prevent falls.
1Johanne Filiatrault, Ph.D., occupational therapist; professor, École de réadaptation, Faculté de médecine, Université de Montréal; researcher at the Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal of the CIUSSS of the Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal.