New guidelines will instruct family doctors to ask elderly patients about the number of times they have fallen over or felt unsteady on their feet. Health watchdogs believe that quizzing the over-65s on such matters during appointments for other conditions, could help them in the long run.
Questions will include asking them the cause of their fall and if they have lost their balance recently. Anyone who is deemed high risk as a result of the conversation will then be referred to a falls prevention clinic. These special services will be run by expert doctors, nurses and physiotherapists and will see them go into the patient’s home and remove trip hazards.
These could include loose rugs, curtain cords or stools. Another option will to be to install hand rails or chairlifts, which could prevent falls in the future. Those who have fallen recently may also need to have their medication reviewed, as it could be this that is making them more prone to losing their balance.
Approximately a third of people aged 65 or over experience a fall a year, with a cost to the NHS of £2.3billion. Some falls can be serious, while others that appear minor can actually lead to a loss of confidence in the patient.
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), said: “We know that prevention is better than cure. Asking older people about falls on a regular basis will identify those most at risk. Through this simple intervention, those people can then be referred to the right healthcare professional or service to stop them falling in the future.”
Some 255,000 over-65s are admitted to hospital for falls annually and many of these are for hip fractures. This can leave them without mobility for months at a time and the need to go into a care home, as they are unable to maintain an independent life as a result.
Professor Cameron Swift, emeritus professor from King’s College London and NICE committee member, said: “Regular questions about falls may seem intrusive or repetitive but older people often think episodes of falling or unsteadiness unimportant or that to raise them could threaten future independence.
“Effective measures are known to reduce the risk of falls, maintain independence and promote health. It’s vital these are offered to those who need them.”