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Otago falls prevention programme goes global

Media Release
19 December, 2003

Otago falls prevention programme goes global

Until recently, 81 year old Delsey Goldmeyer of Florida knew nothing about New Zealand. But that changed after a fall when her local hospital put her on a falls prevention exercise programme designed by researchers at the University of Otago School of Medicine.

The Otago Exercise Programme is rapidly gaining international recognition as it can reduce falls and fall injuries by 35 percent. It is being used to prevent falls among older adults in South London, India, Toronto and Melbourne, says ACC's National Fall Prevention Programme Manager, Alistair Mac Donald.

“That international recognition is great but, of course, our priority is to help older New Zealanders understand that falls are very preventable,” he says.

Mr Mac Donald says falls are the leading cause of injury hospitalisation in the over 65 age group. "Between 30 to 50 percent of people 65 years and over will fall in a year. Yet, in spite of falls being so common, their serious consequences are often overlooked.”

Mr Mac Donald says many older people find the whole subject of falls frightening and depressing, but they have good reason to be optimistic as falls have been proved to be preventable.

"Falls shouldn't be accepted as a natural part of ageing, regardless of age," he says.

While the programme is helpful for those over 75 years of age, it is particularly well suited to those 80 and over living at home. An Otago Exercise Programme researcher, Dr Clare Robertson, says the programme offers benefits, even to people in their nineties.

According to international fall prevention research, poor leg strength and balance are significant factors in most falls.

Often older adults who have suffered a fall move into long-term care. But by building leg strength, balance and flexibility, the Otago programme helps them to age confidently and independently at home in the knowledge that they can avoid falls.

In New Zealand, the Otago Exercise Programme is funded in a growing number of regions by ACC and the Ministry of Health.

The Otago programme is one of several fall prevention exercise services designed to cater to the rapidly growing population of older adults. Another exercise programme, the ACC Fall Prevention Tai Chi initiative, is now being offered through much of New Zealand.

Mr Mac Donald advises people who have had a fall or who fear having another one to talk about prevention with their health professional.

Research shows that falls have a variety of causes and usually more than one is present in most falls. Contrary to widespread belief, comparatively few falls among older adults are caused by things around the home like loose mats and electric cords.

Alongside leg muscle weakness and poor balance, medication use, low blood pressure, inactivity and impaired vision are important in causing falls.

“A fall risk assessment by your health professional that involves things like a review of blood pressure and sleeping pills is probably going to do more to prevent another fall than getting rid of the rug you've had for 20 years,” Mr Mac Donald says.

Recent ACC research shows older adults are most likely to ask their GP or practice nurse for information on preventing falls. Accordingly, ACC is working with doctors and other health professionals to make sure they have the most up to date information on fall prevention and, where appropriate, they make referrals to Fall Prevention Tai Chi and the Otago Exercise Programmes.

To find out more, talk to your doctor or practice nurse. You can order the ‘Stepping Out with Confidence – Avoiding Falls’ brochure from 0800 844 657 or visit the ACC website www.acc.co.nz.

ENDS

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