NHS HIGHLAND: How to avoid the commonest cause of serious injury – falling
With the move from autumn into winter the days are getting even shorter and even colder. As well as being aware of the increase in infections that I have written about before, we should know about what we can do to stay free from injury and especially reduce the risk of falling.
Falls are the commonest cause of serious injury and can have a big impact on people’s lives.
A fall can have a long-term impact on someone’s health, and it can be hard for some people to return to their house or flat following a hospital stay after a fall.
I have a bit of a dislike of the word accident since it suggests that things just happen and can’t be avoided. It may be more helpful to think about injuries and about road traffic collisions than about accidents.
But whatever phrase we use there are things that we all can do to reduce the risk of injury. It is not about being afraid of falling and in fact to reduce the risk of falls it is better to be active and keep up muscle strength.
Rather, we should consider what we all can do to reduce risk and prevent falls for ourselves and others. Falls are most common among the very young and among older people, but we can all make a difference. We can look after ourselves and visiting friends and family who may be more at risk.
At home we can remove clutter and trailing wires and also make sure that areas are well lit, especially in the darker days of winter. Spillages should be cleared up straight away and rugs and mats should be non-slip.
It is important to have properly fitting shoes or slippers too. Strength and balance exercises will make us feel better and reduce the chance of injury.
It is never too early or too late to work on strength and balance and even going out for walks will help. With the arrival of frosts and icy pavements we do need extra care outside, and I know to my cost how easy it is to fall on smooth paving stones near my house.
It’s not just walking of course where winter has an effect and for those of us who drive it is important to ensure that we have good visibility and allow more distance to stop.
Sometimes we do need help from health services. This could be to get eyesight checked or to seek help following a minor fall to prevent a bigger one in future. Healthcare professionals recognise the importance of falls prevention and will want us to come forward with concerns.
I hope that we can all get ready for a safe winter where we can spend time with family and friends indoors and outdoors.
Dr Tim Allison is NHS Highland’s director of public health and policy.