You may know this statistic about falls among older people, but it is shocking all the same to learn that 74% of people who were hospitalised after a fall had broken their hips. Head injuries were the next most serious (22%) with limb fractures further down the list.
About a third of all Australians in the 65+ age group will have a fall each year, but most are not serious. About 10% of people in this cohort who suffer a fall end up with a serious injury.
An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reports states that about 100,000 people aged 65 and over were admitted to hospital after falls in 2012-2013. While that is a few years ago, the statistics are part of a 10-year study done at the time, so are representative. Discuss, as people say when posting something contentious on social media.
The falls could be as relatively minor as the tumble I took down our steep terraced acreage recently, which resulted only in bad language and a few minor scrapes. I few years ago I had a rather more serious fall – a broken rib and a bruised thigh – what rugby league commentators scoffingly dismiss as a ‘cork’. I was carrying two folding chairs in each hand while walking down the stairs. Did I mention it was raining and the soles of my shoes were wet? Duh!
Which brings me to She Who Is Ambidextrous (SWIA), who has taken the lead (2-1) in the Domestic Falls Stakes. Excuse me for making light of a poor but not overly serious situation.
SWIA had what’s known in the medical business as a FOOSH (Fall on Outstretched Hand). She sustained the injury as a result of tripping down some stone steps in the front garden.
As a young friend who rather more seriously injured his arm last year said when hearing this news, “At least it wasn’t a PAFO.” (let me know if you can’t figure it out..)
Yes, it seems we are now in that age group who are more prone to falls, and, having fallen, are more likely to suffer an injury with a longer and sometimes problematic recovery time. Moreover, the fallout from falls can have psychological ramifications, making people less sure of themselves and reluctant to do ‘normal’ things which might result in falls.
It can happen to anyone, anytime.
The AIHW statistics quoted above include the telling observation that 72% of falls occur in the home or residential aged care facilities.
Stay on your feet – join an exercise class
Several Australian states have started a “Stay on Your Feet” campaign, which makes sense when you consider that in Queensland alone, falls cost the state more than $100 million a year.
Most people aged 60 and older are quite aware of the risk involved in taking a tumble and many attend exercise classes designed to shore up core strength and improve balance. So in many ways SWIA’s fall last week is a bit ironic as she is dutiful about attending exercise classes and daily doing what I never do (a morning stretch routine).
One of my regular readers says the thing he likes about the weekly read is that it so often addresses issues affecting ‘our’ age group (he means the over-60s).
So this is for you, mate. Core strength is the overall fitness and flexibility of the core muscles that help us keep our balance, sit down, stand up, lie down, kneel and squat. If your core strength is suspect (like me, down on one knee to get a dish out of the bottom cupboard), you will be found out using your hand/s for support.
Try these tests (and absolve me of all responsibility if you fall in a heap).
Sit on a hard-backed chair for 10 minutes. Now get up without using your arms for leverage. Do the same thing from a sofa, recliner or armchair.
As Billy Connolly says: “Ye know how auld you are by how long it takes to get out of a beanbag.”
The other trick is to stand on one leg for as long as you are able to hold the position, say 30 seconds (no hand support). Now try the other leg. Notice the difference?
The real test is how successful you are at putting on your underpants while standing.
Some people make provisions as they age by retrofitting their homes in some way, for example putting grab bars in the bathroom and toilet. Some even have ramps built to avoid going up and down steps or stairs. People aged 70 and over who live alone are often encouraged to wear a device which they can use to call for help.
Scientists in Australia, the US, UK and Europe are working to develop devices which can prevent falls by predicting the likelihood of a person having a fall. The University of Missouri is collating data from sensors built in to the walls of homes were aged pensioners live. The university’s researchers found that even small changes can predict if an elderly person is about to suffer a dangerous fall.
The risk quadruples if walking speed slows; for example when walking speed decreases by 5.1cm per second, the person has an 86% chance of toppling within three weeks, compared to just a 20% chance with no change. A drop in stride length of 7.6cm predicted a 51% chance of tripping within three weeks. Scientists elsewhere have developed wearable devices which can measure a person’s gait and ability to perform tasks like sitting down and standing up again. These can also reliably predict the likelihood of a pending fall. Scientists are finding these various devices helpful in predicting falls among people who have an illness which affects gait (Parkinson’s Disease, MS, joint pain (arthritis), spinal cord compression injuries and peripheral neuropathy, often associated with diabetes.
If all else fails, there are a range of alert buttons one can wear and press if in need of help. The help buttons trigger a monitoring station which will investigate and, if necessary, dispatch an ambulance.
The main risk of hurting yourself is if you are elderly and live alone, especially in a big, impersonal city. Chances are you could lie on the floor a long time before anyone discovered what had happened to you. I was reminded about this scenario when watching a new TV reality show, Ambulance, which is an inside look at London’s ambulance service. In the first episode, a man in his 90s has fallen to the floor and can’t get up. It’s been three hours and ambulances keep getting diverted to more urgent situations. To add to his woes, an ambulance is about to pull up at his front door when they get sent to help a woman who says she is having a miscarriage. Turns out to be a serial hoaxer
Good thing we live in a small community, where the first responders attending SWIA were prompt, thorough and cheerful. Medical staff at Maleny Soldiers Memorial Hospital were also very thorough, leaving nothing to chance.
Now you’ll have to excuse me, SWIA needs me to tie her shoelaces, take the lid off the pickle jar, and adjust the recliner… (and explain that the title of this article does not, of course, refer to said SWIA. Ed)
Today marks FOMM’s fourth anniversary. Congratulate me, make suggestions, or send gratuities!
Related reading, FOMM back pages