Avoiding injury a careful balancing act

By Anna Wallis

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Spend $3 on a strength and balance exercise session and save a $25,000 hip operation.

That's the value of education in preventing falls and a message health professionals continue to emphasise.

At a Whanganui District Health Board Hospital Advisory Committee meeting last month figures from ACC showed between 2010 and 2014, 132 people had two or more hip fracture or dislocation claims. More than half were aged 75-plus.

Half the patients presenting to hospitals with hip fractures have experienced fragility fractures in the past, it's been found. A 2012 paper found that "hip fracture is all too often the final destination of a 30-year journey fuelled by decreasing bone strength and increasing falls risk."

A report to the committee noted as well as direct costs of hip operations, falls often mean people have to move out of their homes and into care.

Following a hip fracture almost 50 per cent of patients previously at home require long term residential care.

About 30 per cent of people living in the community aged 65 plus will fall at least once a year, and 5 per cent will fracture a bone or require hospitalisation. The figure doubles for people aged 75 years and over.

However, those living in their own home don't recognise the risks to themselves - while 88 per cent knew falls were a potential risk to their age group, 63 per cent didn't believe it applied to them.

The Whanganui Falls Prevention and Fracture Liaison Programme Steering Group has been set up to work within the community.

A specialist fracture liaison nurse has been employed by the Whanganui Regional Health Network, whose work includes implementing osteoporosis screening and intervention programmes and raising awareness in general practice. A specialist ortheogeriatric role has also been identified.

Fall prevention work in Whanganui hospital has meant the last patient fall that caused a fracture was in January 2015.

The report said "the work that occurred for the confused person - who have a high risk of falls - in the medical ward has contributed to a significant decrease in fall-related injuries in the ward, with no fractures from the last two years.

The fall prevention campaign is being implemented collaboratively with St John Ambulance, to ensure patients are followed up. Often St John is called to the same person on more than one occasion.

The prevention campaign is underpinned by an Age Concern Wanganui initiative Steady as You Go, a weekly hour-long strength and balance exercise class. While most exercising are in their 80s, one participant is aged 100 and another recently celebrated their 101st birthday.

The programme, started in Otago 13 years ago, has been successful enough for ACC to pilot it in Whanganui and Tauranga. Two key points are that falls are preventable and are not a natural part of ageing.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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