6 common risks to older people and how to avoid them

Shamsah Lalji Read 2533 times

At any stage of life there are risks. In our earlier years, we’re prone to catching infections, drowning or choking to name but a few. As we venture through our lives, grazing our knees and watching our hair turn grey, we encounter new risks and challenges with the list never growing shorter.

In our older years, although we’re armed with wisdom and a lifetime of experiences we can also be at risk of social isolation.


1. Risk of Social Isolation?

Social isolation is not exclusive to older people. It’s defined as “a state in which an individual lacks a sense of belonging socially, lacks engagement with others, has a minimal number of social contacts and they are deficient in fulfilling and quality relationships”1, according to Nicholas Nicholson, a leading Associate Professor of Nursing who studied at Yale University.

Social isolation can creep up on us slowly or it can jump out at us unexpectedly. Being socially isolated is more common than one might think. According to Patient Info , in the UK, 17 per cent of older people are in contact with family, friends, and neighbours less than once a week and 11 per cent less than once a month.

Social isolation can cause depression, loneliness, fear of others, a poor quality of life and negative self-esteem.

 social isolation

How Can We Help?

Even activities like shopping for non-essential items can be considered social activity. Short walks and playing games help too. Alfriston Day Centre in Surbiton is a great place to chat with people, make friends, get a hot cup of tea and any advice. They’ll even help you get home if transport is a problem. Our carers even pop in now and again to play bingo. Introducing home carers to provide companionship is another great way to get older people to socialise with others from the comfort of their own home.

If someone doesn’t enjoy playing games, but they like going for walks (but mobility may be a problem), one could reach out to a friend, family member or a carer to help. This way, you don’t have to worry about your love one falling or getting lost.

Often, talking to the person and trying to understand the reasons behind their social isolation is a good place to start too. For example, incontinence is often a big deterrent for socialising but can easily be aided with a visit to a medical professional2. Other ways to encourage interaction is through inspiring a positive body image. This can go a long way to giving older people the confidence they need to raise their self-esteem and engage with friends, family and their immediate community.


2. Risk of Malnutrition and Dehydration

Older people are particularly at risk of malnutrition and dehydration. According to Age UK, over one million people over the age of 65 are malnourished or at risk of being malnourished3. The National Health Service’s (NHS) website says that malnourishment is a serious condition and means that a “person’s diet doesn't contain the right amount of nutrients.”3 Poorly nourished individuals are at risk of: muscle weakness, infections, feeling fatigued and having a lack of energy, says the website. Under-nourishment can also cause poor wound healing, changes in behavior, depression and increased falls because of dizziness.


Signs of Malnourishment

The first steps to helping someone who is malnourished is spotting the signs. Unintentional weight loss is something to look out for in those we care for. According to the NHS, a loss of between five and 10 per cent or more of weight in a period of three to six months is the main sign of malnutrition3. Others include: a lack of interest in eating and drinking, feeling tired all the time, feeling ill often and taking more time to recover and weakness. This all happens for several reasons. Some people are unable to stand for a long time, sometimes it’s because of financial reasons, a lack of appetite and occasionally poorly fitted dentures or other dental issues.


How Can We Help?

The course of action depends entirely on specific cases and people should seek medical advice depending on severity and symptoms.

Commonly older people are overwhelmed with the size of a food portion. One easy solution is to reduce the size of the portion but increase the frequency of eating or drinking. This will aid digestion as well. Food can also be made more presentable. Friends, family or a carer can help add some culinary creativity to inspire an appetite.

Vineyard Community Center in Richmond offers free food if financial constraints are the cause of a lack of eating. If strength is an issue, there are tools such as non-slip mats, two-handled mugs and special cutlery that can make eating easier.

Increasing fluid intake is essential, and we don’t only mean water. Other sources of fluid include: Yogurt, jelly, vegetables, custard and fruits (yum!).


3. Risk of Falling and Poor Mobility

Some risks in our older years are exactly the same as in our first few years- albeit the long-term impacts can be vastly different. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says that people aged 65 and older are most prone to falling, with 30 per cent of people in this age group falling at least once a year4. This percentage almost doubles to 50 per cent for people 80-years-old and above5.

Whilst malnutrition and dehydration can cause falls because of the body’s weakness, other reasons include blood pressure issues, medication, poor vision, cognitive impairments (all of which you should see your GP for if you have any concerns) and tripping over pets at home or on walks.

Immobility can cause social challenges or discrimination at work, in relationships and within communities. It can also limit interaction because of accessibility issues in public spaces and on public transportation. Daily tasks like eating, sleeping and getting dressed can also be compromised which detracts from people’s everyday quality of life.

fall prevention


How Can We Help?

Age UK says that falls are the leading cause for older people being taken to the emergency room at hospitals. With this in mind, it’s important to be preventative and ensure that those we love are being cared for.

One way to prevent falls is to remain active. We say: “If you don’t use it, you lose it!” However, muscle strength and balance abilities do naturally reduce with age6. Our bodies facilitate our movement from the day we’re born to the day we pass. Understandably, this will take a toll on our system. Short walks or even chair exercise can help. Home carers are great fitness friends and can help with simple exercises from the comfort of your own home.

There are even centres that have Zumba or Thai Chi classes for older people. If you can stand up by yourself you can do them…so no excuses!

Effective cleaning of floors will also prevent slips and falls. Using the correct cleaning product, using cleaning equipment that’s in good condition and cleaning up spillages promptly all help.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (2018)7, “Too much light on a shiny floor can cause glares and stop people from seeing hazards on the floor and stairs.” It adds that too little light can also “prevent people from seeing hazards on stairs and floors”.

Slip-resistant footwear is a good way to prevent falls, too. Although a shoe that has been slip-tested may cost more, the cost of falling will be even greater6. You should ask shop assistants about the type of sole used in a shoe but also be vigilant when an older pair of shoes becomes over-worn and needs replacing.

If you’re looking for physiotherapists, speech and language therapists or rehabilitation consultants, the Integrated Neurological Services (INS) can help.


4. Risk of Dementia

Did you know that “dementia is actually an umbrella term for a range of progressive conditions that affect the brain”? That’s according to Dementia UK, who say that there are over 200 subtypes of dementia. The most common are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia8.

Different people experience the different types of dementia in their own way8. Someone with Alzheimer’s may have issues recognising people and objects, disorientation, problems with decision making and poor organisation skills whilst someone with Frontotemporal dementia may suffer from disinhibition and inappropriate social behaviour8.

Research shows that the number of people with dementia is declining because people are encouraged to make healthier lifestyle choices, like reducing smoking and alcohol consumption and maintaining physical exercise8. Despite this, Dementia UK say that one third of people over the age of 90 will develop dementia, especially as life expectancy increases8.



How Can We Help?

Unlike many other illnesses you cannot avoid getting dementia but you can implement habits into your lifestyle that can help prevent it. Taking part in activities that keep your mind stimulated are a good place to begin with prevention. The Devonshire Dementia Centre are throwing things back to the 50s. The centre will have anyone thinking their young and full of energy again.

Introducing home carers to spend time playing games with older people, reading to them or offering companionship and support on walks is ideal too.

Other things older people can do include singing, gardening, reading, listening to music, doing puzzles or if you’re really up to it, learning a new language.

Radfield Home Care Richmond, Kingston and Hounslow also offer free dementia awareness workshops. If you want to attend one of these informative sessions, use our contact details here.


5. Risk of Fire

It is proven that fire is a big risk to older people, particularly in an age where we are more dependent on technology, tools and appliances in our daily lives9, but the truth is that fire is a huge risk at any age.

In a report called ‘Focus on Trends in Fires and Fire-Related Fatalities’ produced by the Home Office in 2017, it was revealed that because of an increasing life expectancy and hence an increased number of older people, the number of fatalities due to fire for those over 70-years-old may increase9. The report states that people aged 80-years-old and over accounted for 20 per cent of all fire-related deaths in 2016/179. Most of these fires were caused by the misuse of equipment or appliances9.

fire prevention


How Can We Help?

Naturally, different people have different mental and physical abilities. Older people often carry the added pressure of illnesses or a lack of mobility which contribute to additional risk factors9.

Acknowledging diminished mental capabilities, like dementia, and addressing ways to help a person can be instrumental in saving their life in the event of a fire. People with impaired senses, like smell, sight and hearing are even more at risk. Even people’s economic circumstances may increase their risks as they choose to use candles, faulty heaters or don’t have the funding to repair electrical faults9.

Getting rid of old magazines and newspapers that you never plan to look at again, plastic containers for food or books and postcards cards can also help in the event of a fire. Ensuring that there’s a clear path out of a room and ultimately the home can save a life.

Reminding people that you care about to switch off ovens and stoves and to end their cigarettes if they smoke is a good first step. If an older person uses paraffin creams, changing their bedding regularly (which will have absorbed the cream) is a preventative measure.

Whatever your age, you should have peace of mind knowing that smoke detectors and fire alarms work. You can contact your local fire brigade who will come and check them for you. Careline can provide you with all the gadgets, alarms and tools you need to ensure the safety of your own home- and the home of those you care for.


6. Risk of Fraud

We’ve all been on the receiving end of those pesky phone calls telling us we’ve won something when we never entered a competition or raffle. I get a weekly call asking if I’ve been in an accident, so we’re pretty sure you get them too. Most people have the ability to swat away these fraudsters but older individuals are often easy targets.

Older people, especially those living alone, are easy targets because they’re lonely and willing to listen or trust fraudsters- who are usually younger.

Fraudsters can take advantage over the phone, using door-to-door methods or through advertising. They’re everywhere. In areas related to credit cards, charities, health products and insurance, older people are, particularly at risk.



How Can We Help?

You need to reassure your family or friends not to trust people who come door-to-door. Convince them not to buy anything and instead offer to take them to the shops to get something from a trustworthy place.

In terms of preventing fraudulent phone calls, a handy gadget called TrueCall Secure works well. It checks the caller’s number and if it’s listed as a trusted number it will ring normally. If not, it plays a message like “Hello, we only accept calls from friends and family. If your call is important call my son on (insert number here). You will have to explain to my son why you are calling me and then he can add you to my trusted list.”

Finally, if you think that someone you know or care about is in need of help or at risk you should reach out to them and offer your help; even offering to drive someone in your community to their local GP could be life-saving. If you are unable to offer help personally, you could always contact your local home care company like Radfield Home Care Richmond, Kingston and Hounslow who can assist you with helping others.



1. Nicholson, N. (2014) 'Social Isolation in Older Adults Who Are Frequent Users of Primary Care Services', Can Fam Physicians, 60(6): e322–e329., pp.1

2. Henderson, R. (2016) Social Isolation - How to Help Patients be Less Lonely. Available at: https://patient.info/doctor/social-isolation-how-to-help-patients-be-less-lonely (Accessed: 24 November 2018).

3. NHS (2017) Malnutrition. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/malnutrition/ (Accessed: 24 November 2018).

4. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2013) Assessment and Prevention of Falls in Older People. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg161/evidence/falls-full-guidance-190033741 (Accessed: 24 November 2018).

5. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2013) Assessment and Prevention of Falls in Older People. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg161/evidence/falls-full-guidance-190033741 (Accessed: 24 November 2018).

6. Age UK (2018) Falls Prevention. Available at: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/fitness/falls-prevention/ (Accessed: 24 November 2018).

7. Health and Safety Executive (2018) Causes and Prevention. Available at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/slips/cleaning.htm (Accessed: December 1).

8. Dementia UK (Unknown) What is Dementia? Available at: https://www.dementiauk.org/understanding-dementia/advice-and-information/dementia-first-steps/what-is-dementia/ (Accessed: 24 November 2018).

9. Home Office (2017) Focus on trends in fires and fire- related fatalities. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/650869/focus-trends-fires-fatalities-oct17.pdf (Accessed: December 1 2018).

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