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Feet & Falls Prevention in Older People

Falls preventionFalls prevention in older people should be a priority for everyone. It is Australia’s leading cause of disability due to injury. A simple fall can lead to a broken hip, shoulder or wrist – any of which can cause big changes in your life, or the life of a family member. Podiatrists play an important role in working to prevent falls. This Info Sheet will explain how we can help to keep you and your loved ones standing and walking for longer.

 

As we age our overall strength and balance will decline. Additionally our feet begin to lose strength, flexibility and feeling. These changes put older people at a risk of falling over. A podiatrist can assess for risk factors that can be modified to prevent falls including foot pain, foot deformity, muscle strength, footwear and gait (how we walk).

 

Foot pain

If your feet are painful, you will alter the way you walk to compensate for the pain, which may increase your risk of falling. Eliminating pain may be as simple as attending a routine general nail care appointment to ensure the nails are kept short, not too thick and to remove any corns or callus. Another source of pain may be mechanical and due to the way you are functioning. A podiatrist can conduct a full assessment of the muscles, tendons and joints to identify what is causing the pain provide treatment to eliminate or lessen the pain.

 

Foot deformity

Includes toe deformities (claw toes and hammer toes), bunions, osteoarthritis and more. Foot deformities cause an abnormal pressure distribution under the foot and can impact on balance. We have a number of treatments we can use to move pressure away from painful areas.

 

Muscle strength

The muscles in the foot have an important role in creating stability and balance. Podiatrists can conduct tests to identify any weak muscles and show you some exercises to do at home to help strengthen them. Examples include holding on to sturdy furniture and slowly lift both heels off the ground and then slowly lower them back down and if you have good balance you may be able to try balancing on one leg for a certain amount of time.

 

Footwear

It is important to wear appropriate shoes that have been fitted properly. Your feet provide your brain with feedback information on the surface you are walking on to provide the right amount of balance and postural control. If you are not wearing correct shoes it will affect this process. The worst thing you can do is walk around barefoot, in socks or stockings only as this creates a higher chance of slipping. It is also not good to wear unstable shoes like high heels or thongs. Opt for shoes with a sturdy sole that has a good amount of grip on the bottom and fastenings (lace-up, Velcro, buckle or a zip) to keep your foot in the shoe. It is a good idea to get your shoes fitted at a shoe store or checked by your podiatrist as your needs may have changed as you have gotten older, for example you may need a shoe with a wider toe box to accommodate for bunions.

 

Gait 

This is the word podiatrist’s use for how a person walks. On assessment abnormalities can be picked up and addressed in order to reduce the chance of having a fall in the future.

 

Environment

It is a good idea to check your home for any tripping hazards. Things to look for include rugs on the floor (tripping over the edges), electrical cords running across the floor and cluttered furniture. Another tip is to have good lighting throughout your home.

 

Medication

Side effects of medications or taking multiple different prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs is linked to an increase in the likelihood of falls. Side effects can include drowsiness, dizziness, light headedness or confusion. If you are concerned about feeling unsteady on your feet due to your medications you should consult your general practitioner. You may have noticed a change in your stability after a recent change in your medications or becoming ill with the flu or a bout of gastro.

 

Blood pressure

When you go from lying down to sitting up, such as when you get out of bed, or sitting to standing from your lounge chair, your blood pressure drops. When your blood pressure drops there is less blood travelling to the brain and you may feel light-headed or dizzy.

 

To discuss any of the mentioned risk factors for falls with a professional, book an appointment with your local podiatrist.

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