Stopping stumbles

NOTICING how older people walked and encouraging them to do leg exercises to improve their balance could help prevent them from falling and injuring themselves, a health expert said this week.

Hunter New England Health (HNEH) falls injury prevention co-ordinator Patsy Bourke said a simple observation like checking an older person’s gait could reveal whether they were a candidate for a fall, particularly if they were over 65.

Ms Bourke was taking part in a forum called The Impact of Altered Cognition on Falls Risk, held at the Tamworth Jockey Club.

Dementia and its associated medications (particularly if someone was on four medications or more) also played a part. 

Dementia affected people’s ability to concentrate – the way someone walked was a good indication of their falls risk, one of the forum speakers, Jacqueline Close, said.

Dr Close is a geriatrician at the Prince of Wales Hospital and associate professor at NeuroScience Research Australia.

 “The gait is affected – they might not be lifting their feet as high off the ground,” Ms Bourke said.

More than one in three people aged 65 or over fall at least once a year – and many people fall more often. 

“Falls are a high priority in Hunter New England Health – by giving people information about the risks you can really change people’s lives,” Ms Bourke said.

“In Hunter New England we have about 150,000 people aged 65 and over across the district, so we can say they’re probably having a fall at least once a year.”

After a fall, people often lost confidence and reduced their social and physical activity “which puts them on a negative spiral physically and mentally”.

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