April Falls month underway: Taking falls prevention seriously

Thursday April 2, 2015

Canterbury District Health Board is joining other New Zealand DHBs this April as part of the Health Quality and Safety Commission's drive to reduce falls and the harm they cause.

Sandy Blake, the Clinical Lead for the Commission's national programme to reduce harm from falls, says 90 percent of falls occur in the community, with many people requiring hospital treatment.

"For every fall in hospital, there are five in Aged Residential Care and another 40 at home and in the community. Between 2010 and 2012, a total of 200 people fell and broke their hips while in hospital."

Sandy says older people have a higher risk of falling than others but this can be reduced.

"One of the most important things people can do to keep themselves safe is to ask for help when they need it," she says.

Preventing falls is a key focus for the Canterbury health system all year round, the April Falls initiative provides an opportunity to raise awareness among staff and public.

Dr Nigel Millar, Canterbury Chief Medical Officer is a strong advocate for initiatives that lead to better health outcomes for Canterbury people and take Canterbury health system closer to its goal of zero harm.

"Our message is simple: Falls affect everyone, and everyone can help," Dr Millar says.

"If you don't see yourself as someone at risk, you will know someone who is – a friend, neighbour or elderly relative perhaps."

As part of April Falls, Canterbury DHB has challenged hospital staff to produce the most eye catching displays and to involve visitors and patients in conversations about keeping them safe.

"We are also calling for nominations for Falls Champions in our hospitals, staff who identify people most at risk and involve them in an individualised strategy to keep them safe while they are with us, and after they leave," Dr Millar says.

"Falls can happen anywhere and to anyone, which is why we have put energy and investment into our Community Falls Programme. The good news is that there are simple things people can do at home or with help or advice from a health professional to help keep them safe."

People at risk may be referred, usually by their General Practice Team or as they leave hospital, and assigned their own Falls Champion.

"Their Falls Champion can then visit them at home and begin by assessing their home environment for hazards that could lead to a fall - such as loose carpets, trailing cables or items on the floor where people walk. There may also be places such as steps, toilets or showers where a handrail would help."

Later in the process, a Falls Champion may be able to suggest a number of community level interventions:

  • simple exercises to improve strength and balance
  • a medication review managed by a community pharmacist or General Practice team, to make sure meds are not making a fall more likely
  • talking to a doctor about vitamin D supplements to strengthen bones
  • an eye check by an optometrist – blurred vision can affect balance

Look out for colourful April Falls displays in Canterbury hospitals during April and think about whether anyone close to you could benefit from your help to prevent them from falling. Something as simple as helping them access quality advice on HealthInfo and Health Quality and Safety Commission (HQSC), or encouraging them to talk  a health professional could make all the difference a health professional could make all the difference.

"If we can prevent just one fall by raising awareness and communicating simple strategies for at risk people to stay safe in our community, then our April Falls work will have been worth it," Dr Millar says.

Additional information

Earlier this week the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) confirmed they are accepting an astonishing 500+ falls-related claims a day from people aged 50 and over. They also said people aged 85 and over were twice as likely to have an ACC claim for a fall as those aged 50 to 64 – and 15 times more likely to be admitted to hospital as a result.

Although people aged 85 and over make up just 5 percent of the 50-plus age group, they accounted for nearly half of hip fractures relating to a fall.

Page last reviewed: 02 April 2015
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