A combination of moderate exercise and the right mobility accessories and home improvements are key when it comes to older people living longer, independent and more fulfilling lives.

A survey by the American Medical Association found people in their 70s walked for at least 15 minutes every day were far more likely to remain independent into very old age. Meanwhile, other research found that those who take advantage of technological aids - including mobility vehicles, stairlifts and special baths and showers - were far less likely to suffer falls and other injuries which present the most serious threats to an elderly person’s independence. One in three of those over the age of 65 experiences a fall each year and these are the leading causes of both fatal accidents and those that result in serious injuries.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that up to a third of those who fall once over 65 can suffer moderate to severe injuries including lacerations, hip fractures, and head traumas. These injuries can make it hard to get around or live independently, and increase the risk of early death.

The statistics also revealed that:

• Falls are the most common causes of traumatic brain injuries.

• Nearly 50 per cent of fatal falls among older people were the result of traumatic brain injury.

• Most elderly people who break one or more bones do so because of falling. The most common are fractures of the spine, hip, forearm, leg, ankle, pelvis, upper arm, and hand.

• Many people who fall, even if they are not injured, develop a fear of falling and this further reduces their mobility and physical fitness which in turn increases their fear of falling again.

People over 75 are four times more likely to suffer a fall than those aged between 65 and 74 and this makes it more likely that they will have to be admitted to long-term residential care rather than continuing to live in their own home.

More than 95 per cent of hip fractures for people over the age of 65 are cause by falls and the number of fall-related fractures is twice as high among women than it is for men. The CDC recommends that older people should take some relatively simple steps which, it says, will dramatically reduce the risk of fall-related injuries.

They are:

• Take regular exercise - particularly focusing on exercises that improve balance and increase leg strength. Both of these can be done at any age and they should gradually become gently more challenging as your stamina improves.

• Take stock of your home and consider what improvements you might need to make. The CDC says that people should consider reducing trip hazards, having special access baths or showers installed, add grab bars on the stairs, fit a stairlift and improve lighting.

• Talk to your doctor about the medicines you are taking – both those obtained via prescription and those bought over the counter - to find out if any might cause dizziness or drowsiness.

• Get your eyes checked at least once a year and ensure your order new lenses if you need them. It is surprising how many falls are caused simply by poor eyesight.

Meanwhile the American Medical Association conducted a study of people in their 70s and 80s to ascertain the relationship between walking and independence. It found that people who are able to walk a quarter of a mile in 15 minutes without the aid of a vane, were far more likely to maintain fulfilling and independent lives and were much less likely to become disabled than people who attended classes on successful ageing.

A further report by the Harvard Medical School – titled Mobility and Independence – has said that a combination of gentle exercise coupled with mobility devices and assistive improvements at home can have a dramatic effect when it comes to prolonging independence and even lifespan. The report said: “Many people won’t think about mobility loss until they are in their 60s, 70s, and beyond. But preventing it really should begin decades earlier. Many of the health problems that come with aging could be avoided or lessened by following healthy habits throughout adulthood. “However the good news is that even if you are older or are already have trouble getting around, taking simple steps toward better health and physical conditioning can improve your abilities and help prevent further loss of movement. We should take a broad view of mobility, looking not just at whether you can climb several flights of stairs, but also whether you can move easily around your home and neighbourhood, stay connected to your loved ones and remain engaged in the world.”

By Help Mobility Team

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