Older people urged to take action to avoid falls

Tuesday 7 December 2021

Staff from the Community Rehabilitation and Falls Service

Older people are being urged to get fit and active this winter, by doing specific strength and balance exercises that can reduce the likelihood of falling and being admitted to hospital. The call was issued by physiotherapists from the community rehabilitation and falls service at Guy's and St Thomas'.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and lockdowns, many people have been less active, lost confidence and feel less steady. There has also been a marked increase in the number of people admitted to hospital after a fall as people get out and about more as restrictions have lifted.

Public Health England (now the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities) estimated that 110,000 more older people (up by 3.9%) will have at least one fall a year because of reduced strength and balance activity during the pandemic. They also predict that the total number of falls could increase by more than 250,000.

At Guy's and St Thomas' 106 people from Lambeth and Southwark were admitted to hospital with a non-hip related fracture (such as lower leg, wrist or arm fracture) between April and June 2021 compared with 63 in this period in 2020 and 72 in the same period of 2019.

The team provide strength and balance exercises in a variety of settings, including online and face-to-face groups, for people who have had a fall, nearly fallen or are worried about falling. Referrals can be made by health and social care professionals, family, carers and through self- referral.

Lyn Medcalf, 67, a former theatre stage door manager from Brixton, was referred into a 30-week virtual strength and balance class in April, having attended a face-to-face class before the pandemic.

She said: "I'd been diagnosed with epilepsy and was not feeling terribly well. I'd lost a huge amount of weight but also a lot of muscle tone as well. I was falling over and couldn't walk in a straight line. My balance is not that great and I do get a bit dizzy and fall.

"But now I feel I'm stronger in my legs and I've found that my core muscles have woken up after three or four months. I do exercises at home, and I think it has really helped my balance. I look forward to the class on Friday afternoons. The tutors are lovely, really fantastic people."

Kate Bradfield, senior specialist physiotherapist at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said, "What we want to do is work with people before they fall and end up in the emergency department (A&E). We have people in their 90s attending our classes. Anyone can exercise, at any age and anywhere!

"More than 70% of participants see an improvement in their balance after completing one of our group programmes. We ask people to set a goal for themselves, perhaps walking to a particular shop or bus stop."

Charlotte Williams, deputy clinical lead for the service at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: "The message is keep moving as we know that being active can lift your mood and improve your overall health and wellbeing. Exercises can be included easily into day-to-day activities, such as simple squats whilst the kettle is boiling. This will not only help you to get fit and active but will also help your strength and balance. It's about doing more of these exercises, a little and often."

Tips for staying active at home:

  • get up more often and move around frequently. Join your local walking group, take a Thai Chi, yoga or any other exercise class
  • make your home and garden safer, clear trip hazards particularly on stairs, hallways and in the garden
  • get regular checks of your eyesight and hearing, and wear your glasses and hearing aid
  • check your footwear - your shoes and slippers should fit properly
  • if you have any dizziness or fainting speak to your GP

To find out more about the service in Lambeth and Southwark call the strength and balance helpline on 020 3049 5424, Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm.

Last updated: March 2022

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