Fall alert!

Fall alert!:

High incidence of falls in the home environment gives rise to concern:

When it comes to falls, few people are aware of the many risk factors that exist in the home environment and the dangers that this can pose, particularly to the elderly.

So says Rene Grobler, trauma programme manager at Netcare Milpark Hospital’s level-one trauma centre. The high incidence of falls is underscored by statistics provided by Netcare Milpark Hospital, which indicate that 25% of blunt injuries treated at the hospital during 2015 were as a result of falls. This figure increased to 38% in January 2016 and to 31% in February 2016.

Commenting on the statistics, Grobler noted that the increase in the number of falls may well be attributed to the fact that our population is aging and that an increasing number of elderly folk appear to be living longer. However, many falls within the home environment can be avoided as they generally occur as a result of hazards such as slippery or wet surfaces, poor lighting, inadequate footwear and cluttered pathways.

“In elderly persons, one in every five falls can result in serious injuries, such as broken bones or head injuries. As people become less active, they become weaker, which increases their chances of falling,” she adds.

“These injuries can have a dire impact on the quality of life of those involved, as they often make it difficult to get around and to undertake everyday activities. This, in turn, makes it hard for older people to live on their own.”

“Falls resulting in head injuries can be very serious, especially if the person is taking blood thinning medication. If an older person falls and hits their head, they should therefore seek medical attention as soon as possible to ensure that they have not sustained a brain injury,” cautions Grobler.

She adds that people who have had a fall often develop a fear of falling again, even if they were not injured. This fear may well result in them cutting down on their everyday activities which, in turn, reduces their overall quality of life.

Risk factors that may lead to falls

    • The risk of falling increases with age, as aging affects eyesight, balance, strength and the ability to react to our environment.
    • A lack of exercise may increase the risk of falls, as it leads to a decrease in balance and coordination, as well as bone and muscle strength.
    • Decreased bone strength makes the risk of falling greater.
    • Alcohol use can furthermore cause unsteadiness and slower reaction times.

Checklist for the prevention of falls:

    • Exercise regularly in order to keep agile, fit and healthy.
    • Closely monitor your blood pressure.
    • Ask your doctor or pharmacist to review all the medicine you are taking, including over-the-counter medicine.
    • Undergo regular, annual vision checks.
    • Get up slowly when you have been sitting or lying down.
    • Always wear sensible shoes, both inside and outside the home.
    • Ensure that lighting is adequate in and around the home.
    • Aim for ‘fall free’ areas by removing items from the floor and ensuring that furniture is not arranged in a way that causes hazardous clutter. These could include loose carpets that may slide, and uneven surfaces, loose cords and small objects, which one could trip over.
    • Be aware of soap or water on the floor or at the base of the bath, which can cause slippery conditions in the bathroom and on slippery tiles in the shower.
    • A bedside lamp switched on at night will make it easier to see the way to the bathroom, if you need to use it.
    • A torch placed within reach of the bedside is a good idea in case of electricity cuts.
    • Habits such as a poor diet, excessive alcohol intake and smoking can cause osteoporosis.

“If you have fallen, get help as quickly as possible. Know how and where to get help from; know whom to call. When phoning for assistance, try to explain precisely where you are, what is wrong and the phone number on which you can be contacted. Ensure that you have a cellphone or panic button on your person at all times when you are alone at home to ensure you can get help if you fall. We have had cases where a patient fell in an area, such as the bathroom, and was not able to reach a phone to call for help,” says Grobler.

“A fall can render a person helpless and we have had patients who lay for hours before someone checks in on them and finds them. Always have a means to call for help,” concludes Grobler.


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