The following blog is written by Libby Tiller, a Senior Clinician, Occupational Therapist in the Falls Prevention Service.
Why does intervention make such a big difference?
There are many causes for falls, but the risk can be modified by putting in interventions.
A comprehensive assessment with a plan to address all the risk factors can help people stay healthy and prevent falls and injury due to falls. Being proactive and doing simple things such as exercising, making the environment safe, eating well and having medications reviewed among other things, can help people stay safe and healthy.
Although falls are common in older people, the good news is that they are not inevitable – falls can be prevented.
What are the impacts of falls on those vulnerable?
Unfortunately falls can have a major impact on older people, who are in the most vulnerable group. In fact, 1 in 3 people over 65 fall at least once a year and falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in Australia.
Falls can cause a fear of falling, resulting in people avoiding activity and social contact.
They may also suffer significant injuries such as fractures, skin tears, sprains or head injuries with the possibility of surgery and time in hospital. This can affect their mobility and ability to carry out everyday activities, with many people also experiencing mental health problems.
It is common for people to lose their independence and find it difficult to resume their active lifestyle, resulting in increased services or relocation to residential care.
Research shows that 1 in 5 people break a bone due to a fall, 1 in 3 people lose their independence following a broken bone and 1 in 4 require nursing home care after a fall.
Why are elderly more vulnerable?
As people get older, many things change to increase their vulnerability.
The ageing process causes their muscles and bones to become weaker and their senses such as hearing and vision to change. As the brain ages it also causes changes to thinking and memory and how muscles and senses work.
Older people are more likely to develop medical conditions such as arthritis and diabetes, experience more pain and take more medications to manage medical conditions.
It is common for older people to lose their appetite, which can lead to poor energy levels and weaker muscles and bones. In addition hormone changes, lack of activity and inadequate vitamin D and calcium intake can lead to brittle bones, which increases the risk of a fracture if they do fall.
The end result is that older people’s mobility and balance are affected such that they are at increased risk of falls and injury.
If you are concerned about a family member, how can they get help?
Having a discussion with the person’s local GP is a good place to start.
People with a history of falls and/or mobility and balance problems in the past year can call Peninsula Health ACCESS on 1300 665 781.
ACCESS can refer them to the Falls Prevention Service for a comprehensive falls assessment and also provide information about and referrals for local exercise classes and some other specialist assessment services.
People who are over 65 can also contact the Commonwealth Government agency My Aged Care via Freecall 1800 200 422 or via the internet for information and referrals.