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Falls are still the most common cause of injury – and numbers are rising

Injury due to falling are sending more Australians to hospital than ever before, most of them older people.

According to a report just issued by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Trends in hospitalised injury, Australia 1999-00 to 2012-13, the number of cases each year is rising with 40% of hospital cases due to fall injury.

The second most common cause of injury was transport crashes (12%)

Anyone can have a fall, but older people are more vulnerable and likely to fall, especially if they have a long-term health condition.

Falls are a common, but overlooked, cause of injury. Around one in three adults over 65 who live at home will have at least one fall a year, and about half of these will have more frequent falls.

Most falls don’t result in serious injury. However, there’s always a risk that a fall could lead to broken bones, and it can cause the person to lose confidence, become withdrawn and feel as if they’ve lost their independence.

Falls can be prevented

According to information published on the Better Health Channel, falls are not inevitable and many older people can be prevented from falling. Some risk factors for falls are relatively easy to change and, where falls occur, the severity of injuries can be reduced. The first step is to ensure that if a person is feeling unsteady or has a fall, even one that does not cause an injury, an appointment is made to discuss this with a doctor.

How to avoid falls
To avoid falls and injuries from falls: Exercise to improve your balance, strength and flexibility. Home or group exercise programs and Tai Chi are good examples.
Wear shoes that are comfortable and fit well – they should be wide enough in the toe area, have low or no heels, and have slip-resistant soles.

How to improve safety inside the home

  • Have adequate lighting. Replace light globes with CFL energy efficient light globes of 12 watts or higher. Use plug-in night-lights and have movement sensitive lights near stairs and the bathroom. These lights are available from most leading hardware stores.
  • Remove clutter and make sure walkways and corridors are kept clear and well lit.
  • Repair or replace carpets with worn areas, holes or long threads.
  • Check that mats and rugs are secure and have no tears or wrinkles. Put adhesive strips on all mats and rugs, including those in the bathroom.
  • Make sure that chairs and beds are sturdy and easy to get into and out of, and that tables and benches do not have sharp corners.
  • Check that internal doors can be opened and closed properly, preferably without locks.
  • Check that external doors can be locked and unlocked easily and are working properly.
  • Wipe up spills immediately.
  • Install grab rails in the bathroom (towel rails are not usually strong enough to use as grab rails).
  • Store and use medications safely.
  • To reduce the risk of falling in an emergency, make sure your house has smoke alarms in working order and a fire blanket or extinguisher that is easy to reach.

How to improve safety outside the home

  • Clear away garden tools
  • Kill mosses, fungi and lichen that make garden paths slippery when wet
  • Mark the leading edge of outside steps (for example, with white paint) so they are easy to see
  • Make sure outside steps are well lit
  • Keep paths well swept
  • Repair broken, uneven or cracked paths, patios and other walking surfaces
  • Wear sunglasses and a hat to reduce sun glare.

How to stay healthy

To maximise physical wellbeing:

  • Talk to your doctor or other health professionals about your diet, managing your medications (including non-prescription ones), and ways to manage chronic medical conditions, including dizziness and incontinence, to reduce risks of falling
  • Have your eyes tested annually
  • Visit your podiatrist regularly to minimise foot problems.

Things to remember

  • Falls are a major cause of injury for older people.
  • Falls may be an indicator of deteriorating health.
  • Exercising can help maintain strength (muscle and bone) and balance.
  • Taking precautions in and around the home can help you avoid falls and injuries from falls.
  • Monitoring or personal alert systems or services can give older people independence and peace of mind.
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