Falls in later life: a huge concern for older people
Published on 25 May 2019 12:00 AM
A survey commissioned by Age UK has found that millions of older people are worried about falling over, with 4.3 million (36%) saying it topped their list of concerns .
According to data released by NHS Digital nearly 100,000 older people (aged 65+) suffered hip fractures in 2017/18 .
Falls contribute significantly to hip fractures in older people, many of which are preventable, and they have serious consequences for older people. Falls are the most common cause of injury related deaths in people over the age of 75 with over 5,000 older people dying as a result of a fall in 2017, a 70% increase on the numbers in 2010.
Women account for more than two-thirds of hip fractures and the survey found older women are significantly more likely to say falling was a concern, compared to older men (45% vs 26%, respectively) . Moreover, it was older people living on their own who were most worried about falling.
Preventing falls and hip fractures should be a top priority for the Government as treating hip fractures comes at a vast cost to NHS Health and Social Care, estimated at around £1 billion annually . Older people may remain in hospital for a number of weeks as a result of a fall, and at any one time older people recovering from hip fracture require over 3,600 hospital beds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Hip fractures are also the most common reason for older people needing emergency anaesthesia and surgery, and the most common cause of accidental death .
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: "Falls are a serious threat to older people's health, wellbeing and independence, causing pain, distress and loss of confidence. However, despite having serious consequences, falls in later life are often dismissed as an inevitable part of growing older, when the reality is many of them are preventable.
"We should have effective services in all areas to help people to avoid having a fall in the first place and to support those who have fallen and prevent it from happening again. However, the quality of falls prevention services still varies a great deal from place to place so we welcome the commitments in the NHS Long Term Plan to invest in 'ageing well' and to put more preventative services and support in place".
In addition to support from these preventative services, there are also a number of straightforward things people can do themselves to improve balance and strength - from keeping active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle to looking after foot health.
Age UK is urging people to consider these five simple actions to help prevent falls including:
• Exercise to improve balance As we get older, our muscle strength and balance reduces, which can lead to a fall. Exercises designed to improve muscle strength and balance can reduce your risk of a fall by maintaining strong muscles and bones, which in turn will help your balance.
• Review medicines to ensure they are up to date Certain medications or combinations of medicines can make you feel faint or dizzy and affect your balance.
Let your GP know if you experience side effects like these after taking any medication; they may need to check the dose or look at alternatives.
• Have regular eye sight and hearing checks Eyesight changes as we age and can lead to a trip or loss of balance. Some eye conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts increase with age and it's important that these are detected at an early stage. Get your eyes and glasses checked regularly, at least every two years to detect any vision problems early.
Problems with your ears can severely affect your balance, and the risk of hearing loss increases with age. Talk with your GP if you notice hearing changes are affecting your day-to-day living or social life. The problem may be something easily treated, such as a build-up of ear wax or an ear infection.
• Check homes for trip hazards Many slips, trips and falls happen in or around the home. Keeping an eye out for potential hazards can make your home a safer place.
Although some of these points may seem obvious, it's easy to overlook them. https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/fitness/falls-prevention/
• Choose the right shoes Make sure your shoes (and slippers) fit well and don't have a tendency to slip off. Problems with your feet or shoes can affect your balance and increase your risk of tripping or falling. Talk to your GP, practice nurse and podiatrist about any foot issues.
How everyone can help
Make time for older relatives, friends and neighbours and help them by checking homes for trip hazards, and keeping driveways and pathways clear of slippery surfaces like moss.
Provide help with fixing any problems in the home that may make older people more likely to fall.
Find out how to make homes fall proof here: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/fitness/falls-prevention/