Falls Prevention Exercises for the Elderly

Falling is a major cause of health problems among the elderly, and presents a major challenge to healthcare providers and health systems.

 

Fall-related injuries can cause significant disability, loss of independence, and even premature death.

It is a misconception that falls can just ‘happen’, and that older adults are prone to falling, due to old age. Many people think falling is a normal part of ageing – but the truth is that most falls can be prevented, and everyone has the power to reduce the risk.

There are various reasons for falling in old age. It can happen as a result of inadequate lighting, poorly fitted footwear, impaired cognition or difficult medical conditions. In many cases, it is not simply one, but a combination of underlying risk factors that leads to a fall. As the number of risk factors rises, so does the risk of falling. However, older adults have more fall risk factors, which are often related to health changes that are associated with ageing. One of the greatest risks is being physically inactive, which then leads to a negative impact on leg strength, flexibility, balance, and walking.

Falls can result in complications like fractures, long-term hospitalisation, and a reduction in both self-esteem and confidence.

Due to these negative effects, falls and their consequences should never be overlooked among the elderly. Certain approaches need to be practised, to reduce the risk of falls.

Many falls among older adults are preventable, and it is crucial to offer a range of interventions for those at risk. Exercise is one of the most effective methods amongst different multifactorial interventions, as balance impairment and muscle weakness are the most prevalent modifiable risk factors for falls.

Regular exercise has proven to be extremely effective in reducing falls. It helps to improve strength, balance, functional mobility, and lower the chances of falling in older adults. This ranges from simple activities such as walking and swimming, to tailored exercise programmes. Exercise should be ongoing and of sufficient dose to maximise its benefits in reducing falls. However, medical conditions should be taken into account too.

A tailored programme for strength and balance training can help to reduce the risk of falls. Strengthening exercises are a form of resistance or weight-bearing activity that improves bone and skeletal muscle strength. It is recommended to involve the major muscle groups, such as legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arm muscles. Balance training is a type of exercise that focuses on the ability to control and maintain proper posture over the body’s base of support, either during movement or in the still position.

In a nutshell, integrating balance and strengthening exercises into everyday activities is an effective way to reduce the risk of falling. The following exercises are effective, yet easy to perform anytime and anywhere in a safe environment. Watch out for any pain or discomfort while performing the exercise! Should you have any queries about exercising, please seek professional advice from your doctor or physiotherapist.

Falls Prevention Exercises

Safety during the exercise

  • Consult a doctor if you have multiple medical conditions or not used to exercising.
  • Wear appropriate shoes and clothing during the exercise.
  • Warm up and cool down before and after each exercise session.
  • Start at a comfortable level, then gradually increase the level of difficulty.
  • Drink sufficient water before, during and after exercise.

Stop the exercise if you experience

  • Pain in your chest, neck, shoulder or arm
  • Dizziness or nausea
  • Profuse sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Severe joint pain
 



 

Ms Ooi Bee Yin is a Physiotherapist from the Physiotherapy Department of Tan Tock Seng Hospital. She gained exposure in treating older adults, from the acute inpatient setting, to subacute rehabilitation units. She is also currently working in the outpatient setting where she sees older adults with fall risks or who suffer recurrent falls. Her interest lies in fall prevention and management, particularly in the area of rehabilitation.