Big rise in number of elderly people falling over in
Louise Hall Health Reporter
March 4, 2009
Sydney Morning Herald
THE number of frail, elderly residents admitted to hospital after
a fall in a nursing home or other aged care facility has
significantly increased, putting further pressure on beds in the
public system, a report has found.
Figures published yesterday show that for those aged 65 and above,
the number of falls in residential homes was more than five times
the number of falls of those living in the community, including in
their own home.
Bob Cumming, Professor of Epidemiology and Geriatric Medicine at
the University of Sydney, said that while a fall was often the
catalyst for older people to enter aged care, it was no guarantee
"If older people are put into a nursing home by their kids, they
can't think it is going to prevent their parents falling and
breaking bones," he said.
Professor Cumming said a concerted effort to reduce falls in
hospitals had not translated to improved prevention in aged care,
but the introduction of better lighting, higher staffing levels
and reduced use of psychotropic medication could help.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report said the
higher rate of falls in aged care facilities was primarily because
those residents tended to have much higher care needs and were
more likely to be frail.
The chief executive of the Aged Care Association Australia, Rod
Young, said a recent push towards getting residents out of bed and
walking around was also contributing to the rate of fall injury
cases increasing from 6404.3 per 100,000 in 2003-04 to 7237.5 per
100,000 in 2005-06.
Fall-related injuries cost the health system more than any other
trauma, including road accidents, and the total financial cost is
estimated to exceed $1 billion a year.
The report found the number of people aged 65 and over admitted to
hospital following falls increased by 10 per cent in the two years
to 2006 to 66,800.
Simple trips and slips on level ground were the most common type
of fall, and falls at home were often on stairs. Men had a higher
proportion of falls from ladders, buildings, trees and cliffs.
Almost 65 per cent of in-patients had at least one broken bone,
and the mean length of stay was more than 16 days, bringing the
total bed days to more than 1 million a year.
Head Injuries and Seniors
Children are not the only individuals at risk for head injuries
due to falls. Senior citizens also have a great risk of head
injuries. When children fall, it is because of new found abilities
such as walking, running, and climbing. Older individuals fall for
a number of reasons. These reasons can range from sicknesses that
disrupt normal balance, eyesight failure, weakening reflexes, and
dizziness. While there are a number of other attributing factors
that can lead to a fall, these are by far the highest ranking
Dizziness is a huge risk factor because when an individual becomes
dizzy it is nearly impossible to get a grip on anything, let alone
stay upright. There are some common illnesses that can causes
extreme dizziness in an aging individual, such as vertigo. A
person with vertigo, no matter what the age, can rarely tell which
direction is up, and which direction is down, so as you can
imagine keeping their feet planted firmly on the ground is almost
Being unable to regain balance after a slight slip is another
common cause of traumatic head injury after a fall. An older
person has what some people like to call a dulling sense of
reflexes. When we are young our reflexes are weak and untrained,
as we age we tone these reflexes. However, when we reach our
golden years these reflexes have a tendency to slow and become
weak again. Therefore, when a senior citizen starts to slip, their
reflexes are not responding quickly enough to correct the slip, or
grasp on to a stable object to catch them.
It is so very important to prevent these falls. Falls are so very
detrimental in the elderly where weakened bone structures can lead
to fractures and even serious breaks. This includes the protective
boney shell around the brain…the skull. Closed skull injuries in
the elderly are basically the same as with a toddler, however, the
elevated risk of skull fracture resulting in direct brain trauma
in an older person is extremely high.
The difference between elderly and small children is the height
and speed at which they fall. Toddlers are low to the ground and
don’t gain much momentum during a fall, while the elderly are tall
and do gain momentum during the fall. This means they hit the
ground harder, which has a higher chance of resulting in head
It is possible to correct some of these problems that are caused
by the normal aging process. There are exercises and supplements
to help aid in your effort to fight back these aging problems.
However, slips and falls related to illnesses are not so easily
corrected and caretakers must ensure that every risk factor is
eliminated in order to prevent falls.
If the person lives at home all precautions must be taken to
eliminate normal risks, such as skid proofing the bathroom… a
common site for falls. Preventing a fall is not always feasible,
however a great majority of the time it is and we should do
everything in our power to see that our loved ones never have to
endure such pain and fear.
© C.King Brain Injury Centre 2009