Falls Prevention

When Helen Carrington, Physiotherapist (Wellington ORA Community Team) gave a talk on Falls for Age Concern Wellington, many of our volunteers were interested to gain her insight. As not everyone was able to attend, here is a summary of the talk.

Falls are the most common cause of injury in older people. More than a third of seniors fall each year. 10-20% of those falls result in injury, hospitalisation or death. As older people age, the likelihood of falls resulting in hip fractures increases significantly.

Falls in older people are often associated with muscle weakness and impaired balance. However, falls are not a normal part of ageing. Behavioural changes (healthy lifestyles/ageing) and environmental modification (home and community safety) can reduce the risk of falls.

The evidence shows:

  • that strength and balance exercise programmes can reduce falls (including the most serious injuries from falls) in older people living in the community.
  • that effective strength and balance exercise programmes enable older people at risk of falls to remain independent and well at home, potentially reducing the number of older people admitted to hospital/care facilities.

Maintaining regular foot, eye, hearing, and bladder control health can help lower the risk of falls. Keeping a safe home environment (for example keeping things you use often within easy reach, using a hand-reacher, make sure your rugs don’t slip around, use a non-slip bath or shower mat, make sure electrical cords are not running across your walkways, avoid heavy lifting etc. Please contact ACC for more information on keeping a safe home environment: 04 816 7400)

If you are working with older people, it is important to review (and if appropriate report) ‘near misses.’ These are incidents such as:

  • when the person feels faint or that their legs are giving way
  • when a staff member has been able to safely lessen the impact or distance of the fall

When walking with seniors, ensure the older person (and you!) are wearing appropriate footwear and clothing for the environment and weather you will be walking in. Do they need and have they got their walking aid – is it in good condition and appropriate for them to use? Watch out for uneven paths, slip and trip hazards – some older people may need these pointing out to them. Consider vision, hearing, cognition – the effects of walking and talking. Consider pace, speed and distance of the walk. Encourage use of handrails and grab rails when appropriate, and be aware of road safety.

If a fall occurs, it’s important to keep calm and check for injuries. If there are any injuries or pain, call 111 for an ambulance. If there are no injuries and the older person wishes to get up, here are some tips on how to help someone get up after a fall:

  • Find something sturdy that your client can use to help get themselves up, such as a chair or low wall (“the supporting object”).
  • DON’T attempt to pull your client up from the floor – this risks injuring yourself and/or your client.
  • Ask for help from people nearby if this is an option.
  • Help the client roll onto their side and then onto hands and knees.  They may need to move to the supporting object.
  • Ask them to place their hands on the supporting object to move to a kneeling position.
  • Keeping their hands on the supporting object, ask them to move their strongest leg forwards so they are in a kneeling lunge position.
  • Ask them to push up through their arms and legs to standing/part standing then help them to sit on the supporting object.
  • They should stay seated until they can get up safely without hurting themselves or falling again.
  • Take them home (or to their GP if this is an option) – you might need to use transport to do this.
  • Advise that they should see their GP as soon as possible to report the fall and get a medical check-up.
  • Let your co-ordinator know (there may be forms to complete).
  • As appropriate, contact family members to make them aware of the incident or to arrange someone to stay with the client to monitor them.  Speak to your co-ordinator about this if needed.

Remember, most falls are multifactorial and many of these factors can be eliminated or reduced. Thank you Helen Carrington for the helpful information!

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