Falls prevention starts in the home

1 Apr 2016 | Reducing Harm from Falls

As a month-long focus on preventing falls begins, one Upper Hutt resident is well aware of the campaign’s slogan: falls prevention is everyone’s business.

Seventy-nine-year-old Yvonne Price broke her ankle in a fall on 23 December, after slipping on an unsecured mat at her daughter’s house. Mrs Price lives in a cottage on the property she shares with her daughter and son-in-law.

‘I was watering the plants on the deck of my daughter’s house,’ she says.

‘I ran out of water and was going back into the kitchen. I stepped on a new mat on the deck and it slid. I ended up lying on the ground with my foot at an odd angle.’

Her first problem was finding a way to call for help. Because she couldn’t stand, she had to ‘bottom shuffle’ to her daughter’s office, where she could reach the phone. She rang an ambulance and sat on the floor, waiting for it to arrive.

‘When I got to the emergency department, they tried three times to put the break together, but it didn’t work. So I had to have an operation under general anaesthetic. I ended up with three pieces of metal in my ankle. I was in hospital for nearly three weeks.’

Mrs Price says the worst part was not being able to walk for so long. ‘I had to use a walking frame to get around in hospital and for the first six weeks I was home. In fact, all I could do was hop – but I got quite good at it!’

She is still wearing a moon boot, awaiting the all-clear from specialists.

As well as losing her ability to move freely and independently, and needing to rely on friends, family and neighbours to drive her to appointments and check-ups, Mrs Price lost her family Christmas.

‘Christmas didn’t happen. Not for me. I had visitors in hospital on Christmas Day, but it wasn’t the same.’

Mrs Price says she had removed falls hazards from her house after being warned by her brother – but the errant outdoor mat belonging to someone else was her undoing.

April marks the start of the annual April Falls campaign, which is being promoted by the Commission, district health boards and others.

ACC has a simple checklist to help identify hazards in the home: ACC falls checklist for the home. See also the checklist Stay independent: Are you at risk of falling?

Simple things to keep yourself safe around the home include checking you have non-slip rugs or they are secured to the floor, keeping cords and wires away from walkways or taped down and ensuring stairs and walkways are well-lit with easy to grip handrails.

Background: Falls in people aged 50 and over

  • In 2014, 205,000 people aged 50 and over had one or more claims accepted by ACC for an injury related to a fall. This was an increase from 2011, when 35,000 fewer people had a claim for an injury related to a fall.
  • There were an average of 60 ACC fall-related claims a day from people aged 85 and over.
  • About 25,000 people were admitted to hospital because of a fall-related injury in 2014, an increase of 2000 people from 2013.
  • People aged 85 and over had eight times more fall-related admissions than those aged 65–74 and 16 times more admissions than those aged 50–64.
  • People aged 85 and over stayed in hospital an average of 15.5 days as a result of a fall-related injury, compared with 4.6 days for those aged between 50–64 years.
  • Of people aged 50 and over who fractured their hip because of a fall, over half the fractures happened in people aged 85 and over.
  • Seventy-four percent of people with a hip fracture who were aged 50 or over had an operation on the day they were admitted to hospital or the next day. This is important because a broken hip is very painful and surgery is one of the best forms of pain relief.
  • Women were 1.7 times more likely to be admitted to hospital because of a fall than men.

Data is from the Commission’s Atlas of Healthcare Variation – a website that uses maps, graphs, tables and words to show differences in health care in New Zealand by district health board. The falls Atlas domain was updated on 1 April 2016: www.hqsc.govt.nz/atlas/falls/.

Last updated 01/04/2016