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Choose fall-free fashion over stumbling in style

by Susan Brandis, Professor and head of Bond University’s occupational therapy program

Your grandparents’ fashion sense isn't just an eyesore, with wardrobe malfunctions contributing to serious falls among older people. 

The World Health Organization estimates that each year 684,000 people die from falls globally, with adults over 60 years of age comprising the greatest number of fatalities. 

Professor Susan Brandis, an occupational therapy researcher at Bond University, said the clothes worn by some older people contributed to preventable tumbles.  

"I’ve seen enough people being sent to hospital emergency rooms following a fall to become a disciple of what I call ‘fall-free fashion’,” Professor Brandis said. 

“Balance loss experienced as part of the normal ageing process makes choosing the right clothes vitally important, and it’s an aspect of personal injury prevention that’s highly underrated. 

“Choosing the right shoes for instance are a major consideration.  

“For older women, high heels are never a good choice and many famous people in the age group at most risk of osteoporosis - people like Helen Mirren, Sharon Stone and Dame Judy Dench - wear tennis shoes and sneakers and slip-ons that are lightweight and grippy like ballet flats.  

“That practical casual look really has become quite fashionable.” 

Professor Brandis said flared trousers were also a risk and should be consigned to the 70s ‘when they fitted us and posed much less harm’. 

“Tight fitting trousers with hems that don’t catch the toes or heels of shoes are a good idea. 

“The important consideration selecting trousers is to avoid any that are too long and wide at the ankle.  

“In other words, people should avoid anything that would have looked good on Elvis but should have left the building when he did.  

“Long flowing skirts pose a similar risk, so older women should opt for calf to knee length skirts with a slit at the back so they can move freely.  

“The slit at the back is also an advantage at toilet time as it makes the job, so to speak, easier. 

“Many falls occur during bathroom activities, often the result of toppling over while trying to undress or get dressed again, so the message is to go for clothes with front closures and avoid items that are too tight that need a shoehorn to get in and out of.” 

Professor Brandis cautioned against oversized handbags that carry and weigh too much or have straps that might stop arms reaching out to cushion a fall.  

And she said exercise was something that people of all ages needed to embrace. 

“Things like playing pickle ball, attending a health and wellness centre or joining a healthy lifestyle program like the one offered at Bond University are positive choices.  

“According to the WHO, older people who don’t keep physically active or fit tend to have poorer balance and weaker muscles, which increases the likelihood of falls. 

“That is an ever-growing problem when you consider we are living longer and wanting to maintain active social lifestyles that our grandparents could have only dreamed of. 
 
“My job as a teaching occupational therapist is to get people enjoying healthy and energetic lives through making sure they do everything they can to identify and eliminate fall risks.  

 “I want them to think beyond one step ahead and one leg at a time getting dressed,” she said.

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