Wednesday 22 August 2012

Elderly hurt in falls: The home danger

More than six in 10 falls happen at home, most occur in living room
By Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 21 Aug 2012

ELDERLY people fall at home more than anywhere else, and the living room is the most common place at home where falls take place, according to new data by the Changi General Hospital (CGH).

In the first seven months of this year, the hospital's accident and emergency department treated 1,734 people aged 65 and over for falls.

Of these, more than six in 10 occurred at home.

Other locations where the elderly tended to fall: On the road, on pavements, while taking public transport and in public toilets.

At home, the most common place they fell was in the living room - with 348 cases.

This topped the bedroom and toilet, which accounted for 271 and 211 cases respectively.

These figures were released to The Straits Times ahead of CGH's public forum on caring for the elderly, to be held on Aug 25.

There are no publicly available numbers that point to how often the elderly in Singapore fall.

But recent data from other hospitals and health-care institutions suggests that among those aged 65 and older, about 10 per cent to 17 per cent have had falls.

The National University Hospital said that last year, about one in 10 of its patients above 65 was admitted because of a fall.

Experts who work with the elderly said that rugs and wires on the living room floor are possible hazards for the elderly.

Given that eyesight and reaction time worsen with age, they are more prone to tripping over such objects, said principal physiotherapist Junisha Jumala.

Ms Jumala, however, said that in her experience, the elderly were more likely to fall in the bedroom.

"Most fall by the bed, for example, when they get up to go to the toilet at night," said the CGH specialist.

"It's a problem especially for those who live alone."

Last month, widower Forbes John, 93, was found sprawled on the floor of his HDB flat in Bedok - he had been lying there for several days after he fell in the kitchen and broke his hip.

Staff at his daycare centre became concerned after he failed to show up.

Social worker Trina Tan said that he was severely dehydrated when found.

"Thankfully, he always shows up for day care consistently, otherwise nobody would have found out," said Ms Tan.

Mr John is now recovering at Grace Corner, a nursing home facility near his home.

Ms Jumala said that because they are afraid to fall, a large number of elderly people end up shutting themselves at home.

"(But) when they move around less, their muscles get weaker, and their tolerance for exercise also goes down", which may make them more susceptible to falling, she said.

The physiotherapist added that falls could also be symptoms of other underlying health problems, such as low blood pressure, which may cause giddiness.

"Sometimes, falls are inevitable; they happen.

"The next best thing is to know how to get up from the floor safely," she said.

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