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Senior’s Health

1. Manage your health in your 60s: 

Talk to your doctor about what tests you need, based on your current health and family history. Most healthy people in their 60s should have the following tests. 

  • Every year, a flu vaccination (over 65 years), have an osteoporosis risk assessment, your vision, dental check-up, and a hearing checked (over 65 years) 
  • Every 2 years have a heart disease risk assessment, a blood pressure check, a check for bowel cancer, and for ladies have a mammogram to screen for breast cancer. 
  • Every 3 years, have a diabetes risk assessment, an eye test (every year if over 65 years), a cholesterol and lipids test. 

At regular intervals, have a skin cancer check, a depression risk assessment, and a falls assessment (over 65 years) 


Why are falls a particular concern for older people? 

Anyone can have a fall, but falls are a major health concern for older people (those aged 65 and over).

Falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury in older Australians. As our population ages and the number of older people grows, the likelihood of more falls and fall-related hospitalisations increases.

Nearly 1 in 3 older Australians have experienced a fall in the past 12 months. Of these, 1 in 5 required hospitalisations.

Even when falls don’t cause an injury, they often trigger a loss of confidence in an older person and lead to an ongoing fear of falling. Over time, this can lead to the person limiting their movements and reducing their activity, which further increases the risk of falling.

Most falls, however, can be prevented and a person’s risk of injury can be reduced. With motivation, healthy habits, and an awareness of how to reduce risk, we can all play our part in preventing older people from having a fall.

Why might older people fall?

If someone falls, it’s not necessarily because they are not concentrating or they are clumsy. Reasons why older people might have a fall include:

1. Changes to the body

Our bodies change gradually and over many years as part of the normal ageing process. As you get older, you may notice:

  • balance problems, such as feeling unsteady when you walk.
  • weaker muscles that, for example, make it harder to lift your feet when you walk.
  • poorer eyesight, meaning you don’t see quite as clearly, or have difficulty with sudden light changes or glare.
  • slower reaction times
  • new health problems, such as incontinence (problems with urinating or with your bowels) or dementia

These changes can be due to normal ageing, or they might be caused by an illness or condition. They can affect the way we move around — and sometimes they can cause us to fall.

2. Dangers in and around the home

Nearly 2 out of 3 falls happen in and around the home. Common household hazards include:

  • poor lighting
  • unsafe footwear, such as loose slippers or narrow heels
  • slippery surfaces, such as wet or polished floors, or spills
  • trip hazards like rugs, floor mats and electrical cords
  • steps and uneven surfaces
  • Neglecting general health and wellbeing

Older people who don’t keep physically active or fit tend to have poorer balance and weaker muscles, which increases the likelihood of their having a fall. Not eating well and not drinking enough water can also make it difficult for them to be strong enough to move about safely.

3. Dementia

What is dementia?

Dementia is a broad term used to describe the gradual loss of your:

  • memory
  • intellect
  • ability to think rationally.
  • social skills

Dementia is a word used to describe a group of diseases that cause a gradual loss of brain function. Dementia is not a specific disease. In fact, there are more than 100 different diseases that can cause dementia. Some that you might have heard of are:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lewy body disease
  • vascular dementia

People in their 40s and 50s can get dementia. This is called younger onset dementia. Around 1 in 12 Australians aged 65 years and over are living with dementia. While dementia is more common in older people, it is not a normal part of ageing. 

Rates of dementia are higher in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

What are the signs of dementia?

Signs of dementia might not be easy to see at first.

  • memory loss
  • changes in your planning and problem-solving skills
  • trouble doing everyday tasks.
  • changes in your mood and personality
  • a lack of interest in things and activities you used to enjoy.
  • poor judgement and lack of insight
  • problems with speaking and writing
  • confusion about time and place

Remember that not all memory loss is due to dementia. Speak with your doctor if you feel that you or someone you care about:

  • has memory loss.
  • has behaviour changes.
  • is less able to carry out everyday activities.

What causes dementia?

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • vascular dementia
  • Lewy body disease
  • frontotemporal dementia
  • alcohol related dementia

When should I speak to a doctor about dementia?

See your doctor if you notice a few of these signs:

  1. Memory loss — forgetting things that should be familiar, and not remembering them later.
  2. Difficulty with familiar tasks — for example, making a meal then forgetting to eat it.
  3. Language problems — forgetting simple words or substituting the wrong word.
  4. Disorientation of time and place — for example, forgetting how to get home.
  5. Poor judgement — such as making risky moves when driving.
  6. Problems with abstract thinking — such as counting and doing finances.
  7. Misplacing things — putting things in the wrong place.
  8. Changes in mood or behaviour — such as rapid mood swings for no apparent reason.
  9. Changes in personality — becoming more suspicious, fearful, uninhibited, or outgoing than before.
  10. Loss of initiative — becoming more passive or uninvolved in activities.

Physical activity guidelines for older people

Why should older people stay active?

Whatever your age, you can enjoy the benefits of physical activity. There’s a host of health reasons to stay active and it doesn’t have to be ‘serious business’ — being active can be fun, especially if you can socialise at the same time. Exercise also helps keep your mind active and improves your quality of life. 

  • high blood pressure 
  • high cholesterol
  • type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease
  • bone problems, including osteoporosis
  • obesity
  • some types of cancer
  • improve your sleep 
  • improve your mood
  • give you more energy
  • reduce stress levels and anxiety
  • reduce pain from conditions such as arthritis

Conversely, spending a lot of time sitting down (being sedentary) may increase the risk of health conditions. So, it’s a good idea to break up long periods of sitting with physical activity. Even a few minutes of walking or stretching is beneficial. 

Some types of physical activity, such as resistance training and flexibility exercises, can improve physical changes that come with ageing. 

Most people lose some muscle mass, bone density and flexibility as they age. Chronic health problems can also contribute to weakness and frailty. 

Physical activity has been shown to improve overall health, reduce the chance of chronic health conditions and reduce frailty. This means that staying active may help you live longer with a better quality of life. 

You should aim for about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every day. Moderate-intensity exercise should make you feel a bit breathless, but you should still be able to talk comfortably. 

Incorporate different types of physical activity into your daily routine. This will keep it interesting and easier to stick to over time. 

What types of exercise should older people be doing?

There are 4 main types of physical activity that are important for people of all ages. 

Help keep your heart and lungs healthy. This includes:
  • brisk walking
  • cycling
  • swimming
  • golf (without a gold cart)
  • tennis
  • aerobics classes
  • dancing
Household chores such as gardening and cleaning can also be a great cardio workout. Low-impact activities such as swimming can be beneficial for people who find movement painful because of health conditions such as . You don’t have to do all your activity in one session per day — you can spread it out. For example, 10 minutes of cardio 3 times a day, or 15 minutes twice a day

Help your muscles and bones stay strong. Strength training and weight-bearing exercise are especially helpful at increasing your bone density and reducing the risk of falls among people with osteoporosis.

Strength exercises include:

  • weight training
  • resistance training
  • lifting and carrying (for example, groceries or small children)
  • gardening (involving digging and lifting)
  • climbing stairs

Aim to build strength exercises into your routine about 2 to 3 times a week.

Incorporate gentle stretching and bending exercises that help you move more easily. This might include:

  • Tai Chi
  • yoga
  • dancing
  • gardening
  • lawn bowls
  • mopping or vacuuming

Try to do some stretching exercises every day. You can even stretch while watching TV or waiting for the kettle to boil — you can follow the diagrams here.

Help improve your balance, which can help prevent falls. They include:

  • side leg raises.
  • half squats
  • heel raises.

Remember, physical activity can be varied, and you can exercise outside of a gym or classes. There are also online fitness tools and programs you can use at home.

Even people who are less mobile or have a disability can find ways to keep active. Find an exercise program that is tailored to people at a similar age and fitness level as you.

If you’re struggling to find an activity that’s right for you, ask your doctor, exercise physiologist or physiotherapist.