April Falls Awareness Month

Every year, 1 in 3 people over the age of 65 has a fall. In 2003-2004, the average hospital stay following a fall for people over the age of 65 in Australia was 8.1 days. April is Falls Awareness month. Many health professionals have a role to play in preventing falls, particularly in older people:
1.    Dentists performing procedures under anaesthetic need to ensure patients who suffer side effects such as dizziness are able to recover before leaving the practice.
2.    Dietitians provide advice eating the right foods to main strong bones and muscles reduces the risk of falls. Of particular importance is ensuring that people have an adequate intake of protein, calcium and vitamin D.
3.    Doctors are encouraged to follow the guidelines developed by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare. This includes reviewing medications that are known to be of high risk of contributing to falls, such as sedatives, antidepressants, antipsychotics and some pain relievers. Assessing bone health and lying and standing blood pressure are also important, as well as on-referral to other health professionals where necessary.
4.    Exercise physiologists have a role to play as inactive or unfit people tend to have poorer balance and weaker muscles, leading to unsteadiness when walking. An example of where an exercise physiologist can assist is arthritis, where an activity program can be put together to help control pain, weakness and stiffness.
5.    Nurses in a hospital are encouraged to follow the guidelines developed by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare. This includes ensuring the bed is at an appropriate height for the patient, and that the patient can access their personal possessions safely. Ensuring that patients have their usual spectacles/visual aids and appropriate nonslip footwear when moving about is also important.
6.    Occupational Therapists assist people in the tasks that they do on a daily basis, and this can include doing home visits. An OT is trained to identify items that are falls hazards, such as rugs and trailing electrical cords. An OT can prescribe assistive technology, and recommend modifications such as grab rails and non-slip mats in the shower. It is also important to ensure that stored items are within easy reach to reduce the need to bend down low of climb ladders or stairs.
7.    Optometrists are able to diagnose eye conditions such as cataracts and refer patients to an ophthalmologist for surgery when the cataracts are causing blurred vision. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients had a 16% decrease in the likelihood of hip fracture in the year following cataract surgery, as the cataract-induced changes in vision are associated with postural instability and falls.
8.    Pharmacists are well aware that some medications for conditions such as sleeping problems, stress, anxiety, high blood pressure or heart problems can affect balance in some people. If a pharmacist suspects that a medication is causing confusion, dizziness, unsteadiness, clumsiness or blurred vision, they could recommend the patient see their doctor to see if an alternative medication or dosage can be prescribed.
9.    Physiotherapists can prescribe exercises to build up strength, and aids such as a walking stick or frame. Some specialize and become a neurological physiotherapist to assist people more specifically who have dizziness.
10.    Podiatrists can treat foot conditions such as diabetic foot ulcers, corns, calluses, swollen feet and toenail problems. They can also give advice on proper footwear, and discourage people from wearing socks, surgical stockings and slippers as these increase the risk of slipping.
11.    Psychologists may be aware of patients taking antidepressant or antipsychotic medications which can increase the risk of falls, and can refer a patient back to their doctor to see if an alternative medication/dosage can be prescribed. Some older people may have a strong fear of falling, particularly if they are lonely or isolated. A psychologist can assist with the mental aspects involved in keeping people mobile.
For more information about Falls Awareness Month, you can access the SA Health resource here.

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