Older people's health

The population in the UK is ageing, with people living longer. Older people have skills, knowledge and experience that benefit others, and make up the largest age group of volunteers in the UK.

Retirement shouldn't be about sitting more and moving less; doing this in mid and older age can contribute to health conditions including diabetes, obesity, muscle and joint weakness and arthritis, putting people at a greater risk of ill health and falls.

Falls

Around 30% of over 65s in Barnsley living at home will fall each year. This rises to 50% for those aged 80 or over who are living at home or in care homes. Of these falls, 20% of people will require medical attention.

5% of those who fall in a given year will suffer from fractures and hospitalisation. In 2017/18 there were 1,302 emergency hospital admissions due to falls in people aged 65 and over.

Find out how it's possible to reduce the risk of falls:

Hazards at home

  • Keep your home free of clutter and make sure there's no trailing wires.
  • Be aware of tripping hazards such as rugs and pets.
  • Be aware of uneven floors.
  • Consider using a slip-proof mat in the bath and shower.
  • Make sure lighting is good enough so you can see.
  • Wipe up spills straight away.
  • Avoid walking on slippery floors in socks or tights.
  • Don't rush to answer the door or telephone - consider getting a portable or mobile phone.

Cold weather can also increase the risk of falls, as well as the risk of developing other cold-related health problems. You can find information on how to keep warm and well in cold weather on the NHS website.

You can also find out about making your home warmer and cheaper to run, if you're eligible to receive help with energy bills, and read our advice for private tenants.

General health

High blood pressure can cause dizziness, increasing the risk of falling. If you're experiencing dizziness visit your GP for a blood pressure check.

It's important to keep a check on your health; if you're aged between 40 and 74 and don't have a pre-existing health condition such as diabetes, stroke, kidney disease, peripheral arterial disease and atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you can have a free NHS health check.

The health check could help prevent or delay the onset of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart and kidney disease and dementia.

Feet and footwear

  • Wear properly fitting shoes and slippers with non-skid soles.
  • Replace slippers and shoes that have stretched and are too loose.
  • Take care of your feet, taking care to trim your toenails. Podiatry services can be accessed through your GP where there's a medical issue.

Keep moving

Doing regular exercise such as gardening, dancing, pilates and tai chi can improve your strength and balance, reducing your risk of falling.

Local services including leisure centres, Walk Well Barnsley and healthy bone classes offer a wide variety of physical activity sessions. You can find more details of what’s available on Live Well Barnsley.

Medication

If you've been taking medication your GP or practice nurse will review these every year to make sure they're still right for you. They may stop them or recommend a lower dose, particularly if they have side effects which increase your chance of falling. A review of your medication is particularly important if you're taking four or more different medications a day.

It's important to store your medications in a well-lit area and to make sure they're clearly labelled.

Alcohol

Avoid excessive drinking of alcohol as this can contribute to the development of osteoporosis.

Sight and hearing

If you think poor vision is increasing your risk of falls, even when wearing glasses, make an appointment to have a sight test. Regular eye checks every 2 years can also help prevent sight loss by identifying problems early. Find a local optician on the NHS website.

Having your ears checked regularly could help prevent dizzy spells and poor balance which can also lead to falls. If you think you need a hearing test, visit your GP who can refer you to a specialist.

If sight or hearing loss is affecting your everyday life, contact our sensory impairment team.

If you've fallen before, have poor balance or mobility, or feel you are at risk of falls, you may need to be assessed by a healthcare professional. If you already have a healthcare professional involved in your care, ask them for advice. If you don't, speak to your GP or contact the mobility aid clinic at New Street Health Centre on (01226) 433112.

You may also benefit from a pendant alarm or falls detector. These can help you feel reassured that help is at hand if you fall. For more information visit our page about telecare alarms.

Mental health

Older people can develop mental health problems in the same way as any other age group, with added issues including having to cope with ongoing illness, pain, and the death of a partner or friend. It can also be more difficult to recognise depression in older people due to them being more likely to develop dementia and delirium.

Older adults often fail to recognise that they have a mental health problem, dismissing low mood and loss of interest in their community and surroundings as an inevitable part of ageing. If you've been feeling low, it's important to contact your GP.

Delirium is a sudden, short lived change in mental state rather than a gradual as is the case of depression and dementia. It tends to show in behaviour that's restless, agitated and aggressive, or withdrawn and sleepy, but it's possible to have both types and symptoms can vary. If you spot these changes contact your GP or health professional.

Dementia causes the (usually gradual) loss of mental abilities such as thinking, remembering and reasoning. It's not an inevitable part of old age. Find out how to reduce the risk of developing dementia.

Older people who are socially isolated can suffer from higher levels of depression and anxiety, and there's a connection between social isolation and poor physical health. Certain groups of older people who are more at risk of a decline in mental well-being include those who are:

  • carers
  • recently separated or divorced
  • living alone with little opportunity to socialise
  • recently retired
  • unemployed in later life 
  • on a low income
  • suffering from a recent health problem or with an age related disability
  • no longer able to drive

Activities

Older people can benefit from group activities linked to hobbies, interests and learning opportunities. These activities include singing, support with using computers, mobile phones and technology, arts, crafts, inter-generational and tailored physical activities. Older people with a higher level of assessed physical, mental or social needs can benefit from Occupational Therapy in groups or one-to-one to achieve their potential.

Find out about some of the ways you can look after your mental health:

Stay connected

Stay connected to others by seeing friends, going to group activities, mentoring and befriending. You can find lots of community and leisure activities on Live Well Barnsley, or get involved with Barnsley U3A.

Keep learning

Many older people say that learning activities gives them a sense of purpose and boosts their self-esteem. It can combat social isolation, depression and enables you to make new friends who provide the opportunity to talk about issues which may be bothering you.

Find out about learning opportunities with Adult Skills and Community Learning, and at The Exchange Recovery College, Northern College, Age UK and Barnsley College.

Volunteer

Volunteering can increase self-confidence and self-esteem. Helping others provides a sense of accomplishment, pride and identity, and can help to change negative self-perceptions. It also provides a good opportunity to meet others.

Find out more about volunteering with us, and search for opportunities on the Do-it website.

Take notice

Taking notice of your surroundings, and being mindful about your feelings in the present moment, promotes good mental health and well-being.

Mindfulness also allows you to become more aware of thoughts and feelings that you experience, and see how you may become caught in negative thought processes which can lead to anxiety and depression.

You can find out more about mindfulness on the NHS website and how it can bring about reductions in stress and improvements in mood.

Be active

Guidelines recommend regular aerobic activity such as brisk walking, and muscle strengthening activities.

Exercise is also beneficial for more dependent adults, with evidence suggesting that supervised walking can be beneficial. Aerobic activity can help maintain good mental health by improving circulation, regulating blood pressure and cholesterol, and reducing the risk of developing dementia.

Find out about gym-free exercises on the NHS website, and about leisure centres and local walks by visiting Barnsley Premier Leisure, Walk Well Barnsley and the Trans Pennine Trail websites.