There are fresh calls for a coordinated national falls prevention strategy in light of new figures showing falls accounted for the vast majority of premature deaths in aged care.
One of Australia’s leading falls experts Professor Keith Hill, Head of the School of Physiotherapy at Curtin University, said he was not surprised by a new analysis showing falls caused 82 per cent of premature deaths in residential care from 2000 to 2013.
The research published on Monday in the Medical Journal of Australia, led by Monash University Professor Joseph Ibrahim, reviewed coronial reports to examine the causes of preventable deaths in residential care.
It found that of the 21,672 deaths examined, 15 per cent (or 3,289 cases) were premature and potentially preventable. Falls were the most frequent cause of these deaths (82 per cent, or 2,679 cases) followed by choking (8 per cent, or 261 cases) and suicide (4 per cent, or 146 cases).
Professor Hill, who is a long-time advocate for a national falls strategy, said there were still gaps in the evidence around what interventions worked.
“We still don’t have anywhere near enough research,” said Professor Hill, who is part of the team updating the Cochrane review of research into falls in residential aged care.
While there was some good evidence supporting falls prevention initiatives in community care, “the evidence is very light in residential aged care,” he said.
A coordinated strategy should also address staffing issues in residential care – specifically the greater active involvement of allied health professionals in delivering programs for residents, he said.
While falls remain a key issue for seniors living in their own homes, Professor Hill said there are “extra challenges” in residential aged care given the increasing complexity and acuity of residents and greater cognitive impairment.
“All those things increase the risk of falls,” he said.
Responding to Professor Ibrahim’s research, Aged and Community Services Australia CEO Pat Sparrow said it was worth noting that falls are the highest cause of hospitalisation from injury across the whole community.
“This is an area in in which the dignity and rights of the older person must be balanced with safety concerns,” she added.
Leading Age Services Australia chief Sean Rooney said residential care providers work with residents and their families to ensure a safe environment while not limiting a resident’s independence or freedoms.
“A good quality of life requires a certain degree of autonomy so residents may make choices that enhance their quality of life, but may also increase the risk of potential harm,” he said.
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