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How to prevent and manage falls

“Falls are the number one cause of injuries in elderly people, resulting in hip fractures, cuts, concussions, and even serious head injuries,” says Grant Stewart, ER24 Branch Manager at the North Metropole, Western Cape. “In addition, a fall can prevent the elderly from doing certain activities [such as climbing steps] because they’re afraid they’ll fall again.”

While balance and general mobility problems are a leading cause of falls, lower body weakness and vision problems are also major contributors. As adults grow older, bone density is compromised because of decreased activity and they’re no longer able to absorb the nutrients needed for the skeletal system to stay strong and repair itself quickly. Having diabetes increases the risk of falling even more, because it can affect vision, balance, and feeling in the feet.

It’s not just senior citizens who need to be wary. In fact, falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide. Slipping on wet surfaces, stumbling over toys, tripping over loose cables… some household surfaces and everyday activities can be hazardous to your health.

According to 2018 figures from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States of America, 27.5% of adults aged <65 reported at least one fall in the preceding year (35.6 million falls) and 10.2% (8.4 million) reported a fall-related injury.

Prevention is better than cure. When small children are present, be particularly vigilant about potential falling hazards, such as an open/unprotected window above ground level, open balconies and roof decks. Ensure all staircases have sturdy handrails and balustrades and keep passageways, staircases and landings clear of any toys or household clutter. Where possible, tape down floor-level cords and wires and ensure you use non-slip mats in the bathroom, kitchen and other tiled areas. Consider installing handrails in the bath or shower, particularly if older people are part of the household. Also clean up any spills immediately.

If you’re a bystander at the scene of a fall, the most important thing is to remain calm and call ER24 on 084 124. Giving accurate and correct information to first responders results in the best possible care.

“If you suspect a spinal injury, do not move the person unless they’re in imminent danger from, for example, traffic or fire, or you need to perform CPR,” says Stewart. “If the person has fallen into water, don’t move them to land if arrival of help is imminent. Rather keep them lying face up until help arrives as the water will immobilise the spine. If the person must be moved, there should be one person controlling the neck and head to keep them in alignment, and at least two people on either side of the person to lift them without moving the spine.”

As you wait for ER24 to arrive, make every effort to keep the patient calm and focused on you.