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The practical and human cost of falls among older people

Posted: 06/08/2018

Falls and fractures in older people are a costly and often preventable health issue, Public Health England (PHE) has stated. In its recently updated guidance Falls: Applying All Our Health, PHE highlights the importance of reducing falls and fractures to maintain health, wellbeing and independence amongst older people.

Around a third of people aged 65 and over and half of people aged 80 and over fall at least once a year. Falls can cause distress, pain, injury, loss of confidence, loss of independence and death.

A fall can result from a range of risk factors, including:

  • having a history of falls
  • muscle weakness
  • poor balance
  • visual impairment
  • environmental hazards
  • certain specific health conditions

In some circumstances, falls can occur when a person is in hospital or receiving social care. While not all falls are preventable, many can be avoided with simple safeguards and an appropriate level of care and assistance.

In addition to the human cost, falls represent a significant impact on NHS and social care services. For instance, the total cost of fragility fractures in the UK has been estimated at £4.4 billion annually which includes £1.1 billion for social care. Hip fractures account for around £2 billion of this sum. Falls in hospitals are the most common patient safety incident with more than 240,000 reported every year in acute hospitals and mental health trusts in England and Wales.

Lucie Prothero, senior associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, who specialises in elderly falls cases, comments: “We regularly deal with claims and enquiries relating to falls amongst older people, involving both hospital and community-based care. In many instances, the consequences of these falls are tragic – resulting in disabling fractures, brain injury and even death. There is much publicity at present about the ageing population and the devastating consequences that falls can have for older people. In some instances, straightforward measures are all it takes to prevent falls and avoid these sad outcomes.”

If you or a member of your family are concerned about the circumstances in which a fall has occurred, more information can be found here.

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