Watch your step!

Having a ‘fall’ is synonymous with growing older. But is it true?

Sadly yes. The rate of head injuries from falls by older Australians has nearly doubled over the past decade, according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

125,000 people aged 65 and over were seriously injured due to a fall in 2016-17 – up significantly on 2007-08 – with the likelihood of being hospitalised after a fall increasing with age. Injuries to the head accounted for 26% and hip and thigh injuries 22%.

And it seems life in aged care homes can pose even more risk. The rate of residents being hospitalised with head injuries is greater than ever before, at nearly six times the rate of those living in the community.

The rate of fall cases was higher for women than for men across all older age groups, with women making up 65% of cases.

The average length of stay in hospital following a fall was about 10 days.

Common falls

Similar to previous years, a fall on the same level due to slipping, tripping and stumbling (rather than, for example, a fall from furniture or steps) was the most common cause of hospitalised injury.

However, falls involving stairs and steps showed the steepest increase year on year.

The report shows 51% of hospitalised falls in 2016–17 occurred in the home, 21% in a residential aged care facility and 13% in other places.

The place of occurrence was not specified or not reported for 14% of cases.

A need for better aged care

While we cannot stop all falls, the data suggests there are opportunities to improve aged care for older people.

The fact the incidence of falls is higher in residential care is likely due to the higher levels of frailty among residents. There is clearly a need for improvements in staffing to deal with these higher needs.

That is why National Seniors supports a draft bill being put forward by Centre Alliance MP, Rebekha Sharkie. The legislation would force providers to publish staffing numbers to give greater clarity to the public when looking for a nursing home.

Even though the incidence of falls in the home are lower, there is a need for greater access to home care, especially for services at the appropriate level. National Seniors is continuing to call for more level 3 and 4 packages to meet the shortfall of 120,000 places.

Better housing options

Evidence about the increasing rate of falls from stairs and steps also points to the need for more age-friendly housing.

National Seniors believes older Australians need new housing options to enable them to age at home, without residential care. There is a clear lack of suitable housing options outside the fraught retirement village model.

Our Better Housing campaign has been raising attention about the need for better downsizing options.