Falls Awareness week: can we do more not just in the home but in hospital too?

This week is Falls Awareness Week. We know from official sources that falls affect a third of those aged 65 years and over, rising to over 40% in those aged 80 years and above.

Falls and fractures in older people are a costly and often preventable health concern. We must take steps to tackle this growing problem. If we do not take appropriate action now to improve the prevention and treatment of falls and fractures, the number of people affected by broken bones will rise steeply in just a few years due to demographic changes. Falling is the leading cause of injury-related admissions to hospital in those over 65, and costs the NHS an estimated £2.3 billion per year. The cost of treating and caring for hip fractures in the UK could top £6 billion by 2036.

The Royal Voluntary Service undertook its own research last autumn. It found that that nearly a quarter of over 75s had suffered a fall in Britain in the last year, often with devastating psychological consequences. Falls present a significant cost to the individual; the consequences can range from physical injury, loss of confidence, loss of independence and quality of life and, occasionally, death. Indeed, over a fifth of older people who have had a fall in the last five years say they have lost their confidence and a high number of over 75s, 225,000, won’t leave the house by themselves. In our report we made a number of recommendations around raising awareness and providing advice in preventing falls and ensuring that older people get the help that they need once a fall has occurred so that they can regain their confidence and independence.

Read the Falls: measuring the impact on older people report

But it’s not just at home and in the community that falls occur. Last week the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) called on the NHS to reduce the number of older patients who are falling over in hospitals. It revealed that nearly 209,000 falls were reported in hospitals in England between 1 October 2011 and 30 September 2012. While the vast majority of these people experienced no or low harm, 90 patients died because of their falls. Around 900 patients experienced severe harm, such as hip fractures and head injuries. Many more will have lost confidence and will be fearful of falling again that will take time to recover from.

But help is at hand. The Royal Voluntary Service is present in many hospitals and does provide on ward support in some circumstances. Volunteers, quite rightly, will not get involved in care regulated activities. However, volunteers assisting in getting patients to move around more – and accompanying them whilst they do so – is one of the roles that they can fulfill. Where a patient might be reluctant to move around because of the fear of slips, trips and falls then our volunteers accompanying them can help to alleviate that fear and means that, for example, dementia patients can walk to a dining table where they are more likely to eat than if they are in bed.

It’s a little thing but those little things can make all the difference.

Posted by Steve Smith Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Wednesday, 19 June 2013.

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