While it’s true that today’s seniors are healthier and living at home longer than previous generations, falls remain the number one safety concern. Kingston General Hospital, Hotel Dieu Hospital, Providence Continuing Care Centre and KFL&A Public Health have partnered for the “Stay on Your Feet” public awareness campaign to help seniors identify risks for falling at home.
About 30 per cent of elderly people who suffer a fractured hip die within a year of suffering a fall according to Doris Flynn, a geriatric emergency management nurse at KGH. “It’s catastrophic for them,” Flynn says. “Falls are a huge problem for seniors in particular but they’re preventable.”
Many seniors believe that falls are just a sign of their age, but Flynn stresses the two are not a direct cause and effect. “Even minor falls are usually a flag for something else,” she says. “They need to seek some further assessment.”
The Canada Safety Council has identified falls, many of which occur in or around the home, as the number one safety concern for seniors nationwide. Falls account for nearly two-thirds of injured people over age 65 and 40 per cent of those admitted into nursing homes, according to the council. Developed by the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Falls Prevention Coalition, the “Stay on Your Feet” campaign provides a wealth of information for seniors living on their own.
From making sure stairways are properly lit to installing grab bars in the bathtub to getting regular exercise to reviewing prescription and over-the-counter medication, the campaign, funded by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation, caters to all residents over the age of 60.
Kingston was one of three communities to receive $100,000 last year to develop the two-year initiative, which is modeled after a similar campaign in Australia. Other communities making use of the program include the Grey-Bruce and Elliott Lake areas of Ontario.
Luana Culmer, a falls prevention project leader and KFL&A Public Health nurse, says the acute care information package is available to Kingston seniors through local hospitals and the health unit. “Falls are predictable,” Culmer says. “Most risk factors can be modified to reduce the risk of falling.”
Maureen Pickering, nurse manager of the emergency department at Hotel Dieu, says all elderly patients receive a “Stay on Your Feet” information package upon arriving at Kingston’s hospital. “I think it will be good to have them available on our orthopedic clinic floor too,” she says. “It’s a great initiative.”
Pickering says she also plans to put up posters around Hotel Dieu to raise more awareness about the campaign. A small cart with falls prevention brochures and information booklets is now a permanent fixture in the emergency waiting room at KGH.
Knowing about the potential risks for falling and addressing them are important if seniors want to live at home longer according to Pickering. “It could be anything, from loose carpeting to knowing where the dog or cat is laying,” she says. “Let’s see how many injuries we can prevent.”
Regional geriatric program member, Marilyn Gillis, says PCCC staff are taking steps to prevent falls in long-term care facilities and retirement homes in the Kingston community. Three groups have been developed and they each have a specific focus: to create falls risk screening tools, record how many falls are taking place locally and to develop falls prevention education resources. Their aim is to develop policy for long-term care providers in Kingston, Gillis says.
Seniors must evaluate their everyday lifestyle habits, including level of exercise and alcohol intake if they want to prevent a fall, Flynn adds. While two glasses of wine at dinner everyday may have been acceptable 20 years ago, it could cause dizziness today.
Flynn says that seniors shouldn’t avoid activity because they’re afraid of falling and injuring themselves and adds, “If they’re afraid they might stop exercising, which is worse.”
Seniors are encouraged to talk to their doctor, a nurse, the local seniors association or public health for more advice on how to stay safe at home.