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Staying power

Today across the NSW, health professionals are running programs promoting falls prevention in hospitals, community and residential aged care facilities as part of the April Falls Day, which was established in 2008 by Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service (NSCCAHS).

Falls - especially in older people - are a serious health hazards that can affect the elderly physically, socially and emotionally. In 2008 Reba Meagher, NSW Health Minister, said that one in three people over the age of 65 would suffer a fall each year. Falling over is the most common cause of serious injury in older people, resulting in approximately 30,000 people admitted to hospital each year and also causing at least 300 deaths in NSW per year.

A fall was a direct cause of my grandmother’s death. She slipped on the road, fell, broke her hip and became bedridden, slowly deteriorating physically and mentally over the next two years till she died. It was a sad way to go for a feisty and strong individual, who was perfectly fine, perhaps a bit forgetful, till the fall. Stories like this one are common. Luckily many of the falls can be prevented.

Lindy Clemson (Associate Professor in Ageing in the Faculty of Health Sciences, the University of Sydney) and Megan Swann (an occupational therapist at the Prince of Wales Hospital NSW) developed the Stepping On program offering older people a way of reducing falls and at the same time increasing self-confidence in situations where they are at risk of falling. The manual Stepping On: building confidence and reducing falls covers a range of issues, including falls and risks, strength and balance exercises, home hazards, safe footwear, vision and falls, safety in public places, community mobility, coping after a fall, and understanding how to initiate a medication review. The results of post-program research have shown that it reduced the falls rate of its participants by over 30 per cent.

While Stepping On: building confidence and reducing falls has been written for health professionals who work with elderly people in the area of falls prevention, Lindy and Megan also wrote a book Staying power: tips and tools for keeping you on your feet which is packed with practical and inspirational advice on how to prevent falls in daily life. These include ideas for setting up home, getting out and about in the community and developing body balance and strength. The book also contains numerous success stories from older people who have adopted a combination of exercise and a healthy, active approach to beat what seem like inevitable outcomes of getting older.

And these ideas are not just for the elderly. We should all remove clutter or trailing cords from walkways, wear good shoes, look where we are walking and watch out for those slippery or bumpy surfaces.

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