A slip, a flip, a hospital trip

As people grow older above ~60 years, they are at a greater risk of falling. Falling can have an enormous impact on quality of life for an older person. After a fall, an older person can lose confidence, become less active and lose muscle strength and power of their leg muscles. These losses lead to a decline in their ability to carry out normal activities of daily living such as getting out of a chair. Following a fall, an older person can become less independent and require more help in the home and may need special aged care services to help them manage and stay at home.

Most falls are associated with identifiable risk factors including muscular weakness, unsteady walking, and poor balance. A previous blog highlighted these risk factors in more detail. Isolation, such as that experienced and amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic, is also linked to increase risk of falling and hospitalization for older adults. Research shows this may be a result of isolation and the associated lower levels of activity, lower exercise tolerance and loss of muscle strength.

As a practicing physiotherapist my team and I have noticed among our own clients, an increased number of falls following periods of isolation with the COVID-19 pandemic. We also had a greater number of older clients seeking treatment for injuries sustained when returning to increased levels of activity after being in isolation. This is a common feature of ‘overloading’ too much, too early and leading to injury.

Regular and graduated exercise is a powerful intervention that is instrumental in reducing the risk of falling in older adults, as shown by researchA targeted exercise program can increase muscle strength and power and improve balance  

Simple strength and balance challenge

  • 3 exercises (5-minute duration)
  • Once per day
  • Four-week commitment

Do these exercises in the following order at your own pace but as quickly as you can.  

  1. Sit to stand 5 
  2. Single leg stand on left leg and 10 kicks with right leg 
  3. Sit to stand x 5   
  4. Heel raises x10 
  5. Sit to stand x 5  
  6. Single leg stand on right leg and 10 kicks with left leg  
  7. Sit to stand x 5  

Instructions for each exercise 

A. Sit to stand  

  • Start seated in a chair (or similar) with your arms across your chest, your feet on the floor and your knees at ~90 degrees. 
  • Bend forward at the hips and stand up until you are completely upright with knees straight.  
  • Lift your chest and tighten your buttocks.  
  • Sit down slowly, bending at the hips and knees, and control the movement, not allowing yourself to ‘flop’ into the chair. 

B. Single leg stand with kick 

  • Stand with your feet together. 
  • Lift one foot off the floor while standing on the other leg.    
  • Kick the raised leg forward, then sideways and backwards while you maintain your balance.  
  • If required have stable support near for you to hold. 

 C. Heel Raises

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and arms by your sides.  
  • Keeping your knees straight, lift both heels and rise on to your toes.  
  • Return to the starting position, controlling the movement as you lower both heels to the ground. 

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