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/
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Notes to editors
[ii] ONS mid-year population estimates for 2020 show that there are 3.8 million people aged 60-65 in England (accessed here: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/datasets/populationestimatesforukenglandandwalesscotlandandnorthernireland). The Government’s Impact Assessment (accessed here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/996781/impact-assessment-upper-age-prescription-exemption.pdf) says that 95% of people aged 60-65 use at least one prescription a year, equivalent to 3.6 million people, and that 34% of these prescription users would retain exemption from prescription charges following the proposed policy change. We therefore estimate that 2.4 million people aged 60-65 (66% of prescription users) will need to pay for prescriptions following the proposed policy change.
Age UK’s new Behind the Headline report can be found here:
In response to the Department’s consultation, almost 40,000 people submitted responses via Age UK’s website. We believe this level of response shows the strength of concern about the proposals. We recently wrote to the Secretary of State to express our concerns along with 24 other organisations including the Royal College of GPs and Royal Pharmaceutical Society. Many clinicians are concerned about these proposals’ impact on older people’s health too.
The consultation puts forward proposals to increase the qualifying age for free prescriptions from 60 to the State Pension age, which is currently 66 for both men and women but is on track to rise further.
National Institute for Health Care Excellence says that people aged 65 and over are most at risk of falling and suffering the most severe injuries, with 30% of people who are older than 65, and 50% of people older than 80, are falling at least once a year. Source
In 2016, 72% of people aged 60 and over with hip fracture received surgery on the day of, or the day after, admission. This is down from a high of 75.2% in 2014, falling again in 2015 and then 2016. Source
Hip fracture represents the most serious fall related injury. Source
Filming at exercise classes at local Age UKs in London available on request – contact details above.
We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI and our local Age UK partners in England (together the Age UK Family). We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.
Age UK believes that everyone should have the opportunity to make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances. We provide free information, advice and support to over six million people; commercial products and services to over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and wellbeing, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle.
Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group (“we”). Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity’s trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).
(1) Approx. 4,343,000 people aged 65+ (36 per cent). Kantar TNS F2F Omnibus Research polling for Age UK, Nov-Dec 2018 – sample of 1,917 people aged 65+ in the UK. Figures extrapolated to national population using latest ONS Population Estimates (Mid-Year Estimates, 2017). Source
(2) According to the ONS the total size of 65+ UK population is 11,989,322. The actual number of people aged 65+ who suffered a hip fracture is 105,471.
(3) Older adult hip fractures account for 1.4 million bed days a year.
(4) On average the length of stay in a hospital bed for older people who have suffered a hip fracture equates to 20.0 bed days. Source
(6) 2,887 (45 per cent) of women aged 65+ and 1,456 (26 per cent) of older men aged 65+ said falling on slippery roads or pavements was a concern. Kantar TNS F2F Omnibus Research polling for Age UK, Nov-Dec 2018 – sample of 1,917 people aged 65+ in the UK. Figures extrapolated to national population using latest ONS Mid-Year Population Estimates (2017) Accessible via: Source
(7) 41 per cent of older people living on their own compared with 34 per cent, 21 per cent and 14 per cent of older people living in two, three and four+ person households respectively, said falling on slippery roads or pavements was a concern. Kantar TNS F2F Omnibus Research polling for Age UK, Nov-Dec 2018 – sample of 1,917 people aged 65+ in the UK. Figures extrapolated to national population using latest ONS Mid-Year Population Estimates (2017), Accessible via ONS