Amid ongoing efforts to lower stubborn falls rates, new research shows fewer seniors are now being referred to prevention programs after a fall than a decade earlier.
The drop in referrals is despite findings that people who are referred to a prevention program are half as likely to fall.
The research is based on a 2015 survey of 1,991 Western Australian home and community care clients across 10 organisations, and compares the findings between 2005 and 2015.
The rate of falls had hardly moved in the decade – with 48 per cent of respondents having fallen in the previous year and 33 per cent in the previous month.
A decade later, the falls rates for this group remains 50 per cent higher than for seniors not receiving community care services, said lead author Dr Elissa Burton from Curtin University’s School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science.
However, only 27 per cent of those who had fallen were referred to a falls prevention program, which is significantly fewer than the 31 per cent 10 years ago, she said.
“If people are referred for falls prevention services then they are 47 per cent less likely to fall. We need to make it easier for seniors to access these services,” Dr Burton told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“When someone falls, they are more likely to then have another fall if nothing is done to help.”
Respondents who thought they would definitely fall or might fall also had a higher likelihood of falling.
“Our results indicate the importance of community care organisations incorporating balance exercise programs into their services and referring their clients to a falls prevention service or program as soon as a fall has taken place or someone is considered at high risk of falling,” Dr Burton said.
Being hospitalised following a fall also increases the likelihood an older person will enter residential care.
Older home care clients need assistance to prevent falls without thinking they will have to go into residential care if they tell someone they have fallen, Dr Burton said.
The rate of falls in the study are representative of the Australia community aged care population, the researchers found. However, the referrals to falls prevention services are less likely to represent the national population because health services differ between the states, Dr Burton said.
A change in the process for the state’s community physiotherapy service, which previously allowed GPs to refer patients directly to the service but now only permits public health service providers, such as hospitals, is thought to be a contributing factor, she said.
- Of the 42 per cent of people who sought seek medical assistance after a fall, 45 per cent saw a doctor in the emergency department or hospital; 32 per cent saw their GP; and 8 per cent visited a physiotherapist.
- Of those who reported falling in the previous year, 42 per cent (398 people) fell once; 24 per cent (231 people) fell twice; 12 per cent (117 people) fell three times; and 14 respondents reported 12 falls while two people with balance problems estimated 60 falls each.
- Half of respondents fell in their home while, a quarter fell in their yard while 13 per cent fell in a public place.
- The most common causes of falling were tripping, over balancing or over reaching, legs giving way, not concentrating and rushing.
- 100,000 people were hospitalised due to falls in 2012-13.
The research, which was published in Clinical Interventions in Aging this week, is available here.
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