WDHB highlights April Falls campaign for second year in a row

9 April 2013
Preventing falls in the community, in our hospitals and aged residential care is everyone’s business, says Whanganui District Health Board (WDHB) director of nursing, patient safety and quality Sandy Blake.
Wearing her ‘other hat’ as national clinical lead for the Health Quality Safety Commission’s Reducing Harm from Falls (in care settings) Programme, Mrs Blake is hard at work pushing this month’s national April Falls promotion to WDHB staff and the Whanganui health sector, in general.

During the month-long campaign, WDHB staff will remind patients and their families how important it is to:
  • maintain strength and balance by exercising safely
  • the advantages of taking Vitamin D supplements if you do not get out into the sun
  • you are frail or deficient in Vitamin D
  • and ways to eliminate hazards to make your environment safe.
Mrs Blake says while many people now know that falls are the single most common cause of injury in New Zealand, what’s not always known is that many are preventable so “it’s up to the whole community to ensure we work as a team to prevent harm from falls”, Mrs Blake says.
“For many of our elderly, there’s a very real concern that a fall could mean they harm themselves, lose their independence and possibly have to leave their home.”
Mrs Blake says it’s thought provoking to think that between 2011 and 2013 alone, 1251 claims were accepted by ACC from the Whanganui region for people over the age of 50 years who had fallen and fractured or broken a bone. “This means eight falls a week resulting in a fracture, more than one a day, occur in the Whanganui region.”

“A fracture to the hip and femur is one of the most devastating injuries sustained by the elderly. In Whanganui, it represents the fracture location with the highest number of incidents of harm, followed by the upper arm and wrist.
“Knowing that the number of females who fell and suffered a fracture is nearly double that of males, females clearly have a higher incidence of fragile bones making it vital for falls injury prevention and osteoporosis care needs to be entwined.
“The age of those who fell and sustained a fracture in Whanganui is also interesting,” Mrs Blake says. The Health Quality Safety Commission refers to the age of 75 years, and 55 years for Māori and Pacific people, as the elderly who fall but it’s been shown that the problem is spread fairly evenly from 50 years of age with a peak in the 55-59 years age group. With the number of falls for everyone aged 75 years and above at 436, we know strategies are needed at both ends of the age spectrum.  
Evidence shows that one fracture often heralds a second fracture, and in Whanganui, the age group who fell the most and had a second fracture were those above 75 years of age.
Mrs Blake says it’s important to remain mobile - strong leg muscles and good balance are two of the best ways to decrease your chances of falling.
  • Make sure you have regular eye tests and look after your eyes - poor eyesight, incorrect glasses, and dirty glasses, can all contribute to falls.
  • Make sure you wear well fitting shoes and footwear and never walk round the house in socks or stockings that are slippery.
  • Ensure your home is safe - don’t leave hoses out that you might trip on and make sure you don’t leave slippery wet leaves on your paths.
  • Make sure your house (indoors and out) is well-lit, that you have handrails where there are stairs and you don’t have rugs, cords or furniture that you could trip over.
Mrs Blake encourages people to discuss any concerns with their doctor or nurse, and to ask for help if they feel unsteady on their feet.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need a hand, wherever you are,” Mrs Blake says.  “If you’re in hospital, make sure you know where your bedside call-bell is and ensure you have everything important, such as your glasses or walker, within reach.”
More information about reducing harm from falls is available from the Health Quality Safety
Commission’s website, www.hqsc.govt.nz