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'Critical' need to prevent falls as emergency admissions rise

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The “critical” need to improve identification of older people at risk of falls has been highlighted as statistics from the north of England have shown the extent to which those in the region are being admitted to hospital for a related injury.

Health academics in the North East of England and Cumbria analysed data from 2014-15 and found that among the nine NHS trusts in the area there were 12,654 emergency admissions for falls, costing an estimated £85 million.

“Falls are very common in older people but we know we can reduce the risks of falling”

Professor Julia Newton

A report by the Academic Health Science Network for the North East and North Cumbria also found that around a third of all people aged 65 and over fall each year – and amongst those living in the community who fall, 5% will suffer from fractures and hospitalisation.

The AHSN stressed that falls were preventable and said it wanted to raise awareness of the problem.

The network’s medical director, Professor Julia Newton, highlighted nurses were well-placed to identify risk factors and address them by providing interventions.

“Falls are very common in older people but we know we can reduce the risks of falling,” Professor Newton told Nursing Times.

The major consequence of falls for older people are fractures, particularly a fractured neck or femur – and the majority of those who experience a hip fracture never live independently again, she said.

The signs nurses can watch out for include a person on four or more medications, or if a person is unsteady on their feet, said Professor Newton.

“Falls and the associated consequence of fractures are extremely costly to our health and social care system but also to individuals”

Professor Julia Newton

The latter can be easily measured using a timed “up and go” test in which the person walks from a chair for three metres, turns around and gets back to the chair, she added.

“If they do this in longer than 14 seconds then they would benefit from exercises to strengthen their lower limbs,” said Professor Newton.

Every year more elderly people in the North East of England are having a fall, probably because of the ageing population, said Professor Newton.

Across England there are around 255,000 falls-related emergency hospital admissions every year among patients aged 65 and older. Falls are estimated to cost the NHS more than £2.3bn a year.

“Falls and the associated consequence of fractures are extremely costly to our health and social care system but also to individuals and their families,” said Professor Newton.

“It is critical that we develop pathways to identify those at risk of falls and to offer evidence based interventions,” she added.

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