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Fall prevention among elderly key to independence

Media Release

Fall prevention among elderly key to independence

A television cord, a duvet or a mat may seem unlikely objects to cause serious injury or even death, but for elderly people they can prove lethal.

Auckland Regional Public Health Services Injury Prevention Co-ordinator Elena Smith says items around the home cause hundred of falls among older people every year, resulting in injury and death. At present, one in three people aged 65 or more will have a fall every two years and half of over 80 will have a fall every year.

“It can also mean for many a loss of independence, fear of falling again and the inability to live a full, happy and active life.”

Elena Smith will highlight the success of the Step Ahead programme at the Injury Prevention Network of Aotearoa New Zealand (IPNANZ) Weaving the Strands 2003 Conference in Wellington this week.

Set up in 1999 by Auckland Regional Public Health Service, Arthritis Foundation, Sport Waitakere and Age Concern, Step Ahead is facilitated by older people and takes a holistic approach to fall prevention.

The Auckland-based course is aimed at older people living independently in the community, showing them ways to prevent falls through a combination of exercise, relaxation and home safety

Elena Smith says fall prevention can provide the key to older peoples independence and living in the community as long as possible.

“A fall can really knock a person’s confidence, making them scared of it happening again, reluctant to leave home or they are unable to leave because of their injury.

“All of the exercises are simple and quick to do. They can be done sitting in a chair or standing. The aim is to get people doing exercise as often as possible as this helps to increase bone density, muscle strength and balance, making it less likely they will have a fall and, if they do, making their recovery much quicker.”

Those who take part in the course are encouraged to join in walking groups or exercise classes, which play an important part in ensuring people, remain socially active, and that they don’t become isolated from the community, Elena Smith says.

The main causes of falls among older people are predominately home safety issues such as clutter and poor lighting or a combination of physical problems such as strength, loss of eyesight and hearing, impaired balance and poor leg muscle strength. Medication, along with cold weather, can also play a role as it can affect peoples’ balance and perception or make them unstable on their feet.

Elena Smith say studies have shown that programmes such as Step Ahead are a cost-effective way to prevent falls and help people to stay active.

Like most westernised countries, New Zealand has an aging population which means fall prevention is a major public health issue that needs to be addressed nationally with some urgency, she says.


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