Falls Awareness Week – Put your best foot forward…

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Run by Age UK, Falls Awareness Week is an annual event to help prevent older people from suffering falls. Every year it aims to help people understand what they can do to avoid falls, and how they can access support services.

Elderly - Falls Awareness Week

This year the Week ran from 17th to 21st June and the theme was Best Foot Forward. Foot problems such as corns, calluses or weak ankles can be painful and increase the risk of falling, so the campaign highlighted the importance of looking after your feet.

To find out about the campaign, visit the Age UK website: http://www.ageuk.org.uk/professional-resources-home/services-and-practice/health-and-wellbeing/falls-awareness-week-18-22-june-2012/

High number of falls amongst the elderly


According to Age UK around 350,000 elderly people are admitted to hospital every year because of a fall. About 9,000 older people die every year as the result of a fall, with injuries from falls being one of the leading causes of death for over-75s.

A fall can have many devastating effects for an elderly person and lead to feelings of isolation and becoming house-bound.

According to Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director-General of Age UK: "Falls in later life are often dismissed as an inevitable part of growing older, however the reality is that there is something we can all do prevent a fall and increase our chances of living a healthy and independent life for as long as possible. Prevention is better than cure and more should be done to support and promote this."

NHS needs to reduce falls amongst older people in hospital


It has also emerged that 90 patients died in one year because of falls whilst in hospital. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended that hospital staff create a plan to reduce the likelihood of falling over for at-risk patients.

The figures are concerning, for example:
  • Falls cost the NHS an estimated £2.3 billion a year
  • 209,000 falls were reported in hospitals in England between October 2011 - September 2012
  • 97% experienced no or low harm as a result of these falls, such as minor cuts and bruises
  • Around 900 patients experienced severe harm, eg hip fractures and head injuries
  • 90 patients died as a result of falls in hospital

NICE has recognised those at high risk of falls are all elderly patients aged 65 and over, and those aged over 50 with dementia, stroke, vision or hearing problems and other underlying issues.

These older people are more likely to fall and hospital staff should take into consideration whether they have fallen previously, the medicines they are taking, their eyesight and problems with balance or walking.

NICE highlights that hospital staff can make plans to avoid falls by adjusting medication, offering alternative footwear and helping patients to go to the toilet. They also need to encourage patients to use their bedside calling system and to explain to visitors when and how bed rails can be adjusted.

Device detects when an older person has a fall


A new EU-funded device has been developed which allows elderly people to call for immediate medical help if they fall and injure themselves.

'Vigi'Fall' is a patch, worn by the elderly person. The patch is small and can even be worn in the shower.

Several sensors are wirelessly attached to walls around the house. If the elderly person suffers a fall this will be picked up by the patch and the wall sensors will detect the absence of movement and wirelessly relay a signal to a central control box. This control box will also be in the home and connect automatically, via telephone, to a nurse or call centre.

The sensors can also analyse the nature of the fall and posture of the elderly person so that false alarms are not raised. An operator at the call centre would also contact the elderly person by phone, and if the call is unanswered emergency services or their family are contacted.

It is hoped that the device will be available to purchase by the end of 2013. Anne Connolly, Director of Ageing Well Network Ireland, commented: "Far too often elderly patients arrive at emergency departments after lying on the floor for hours unable to call for help and the physical and psychological deterioration that ensues is often irreparable. We welcome the news that the EU has invested in the health and wellbeing of elderly people through the development of Vigi’Fall."


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