A long hot summer is coming to an end, and fall (autumn) has already started. The evenings are cooler and many of the trees across Waikato are slowly turning gold, red and brown.
The first of April marks the start of the annual ‘April Falls’ campaign, which is promoted by the Health Quality and Safety Commission (HQSC), district health boards and others.
The commission’s clinical lead for the Reducing Harm from Falls programme, Sandy Blake, says the messages in April Falls aren’t just for health professionals. “Families and whānau have a role to play as well.
“Falls prevention is everyone’s business – from the individual, to the family and whānau, to a wide range of health professionals – hospital doctors and nurses, other hospital staff, community health providers, GPs, practice nurses, and physiotherapists and other allied health workers.”
Falls happen in hospitals where people can be frail, disoriented and in a strange environment. They also often happen at home, where people can be so familiar with their surroundings that they become “gung-ho” about the risks of simple things like slippery mats or garden tools lying around outside.
Falling can be a cycle. A person who has had a fall may be worried about falling again and therefore reduce their level of activity and the amount of time they spend outside. This can result in weaker muscles (from inaction) and potentially Vitamin D deficiency, as well as a hesitancy that can make them more likely to fall again.
For health professionals in the community or in hospitals, the aim is not to classify all older people as the same, but rather to identify which older person is at risk of falling – and to do something about it, or “Ask, assess, act” as the HQSC programme puts it.
Checklist brochure for older people and their families
A “checklist” brochure produced by the HQSC is a good way for older people and their families/friends to identify if they are at risk of falling and what they can do about it to make sure they stay as independent as possible.
At Waikato District Health Board
Waikato DHB has an ongoing programme of falls prevention and a target to reduce falls in its hospitals by 10 percent each year. Patient/family, community, clinician and healthcare staff are provided with different types of education and awareness information, as well as specific tools to help reduce falls. These can range from non-slip socks, sensor beams and ultra-low beds, to vitamin D prescription and increased physiotherapy.
Susan McHugh is the lead of the Waikato DHB’s Fall Prevention Programme, and she says the constant awareness of hospital falls prevention over several years is paying off.
“From 2013/14 year to the 2014/15 year we had a drop of 133 total falls, which is more than 10 percent, and an even more significant reduction in falls that resulted in harm (which might be anything from a skin tear to a bruise or fracture) – from 334 to 249 which is 25 percent,” she says.
Susan’s role takes her through all the hospital and community health facilities operated by Waikato DHB and involves an integrated approach across the region with all organisations who have a responsibility towards fall prevention, both within health and outside such as councils. She says there is a lot of falls awareness activity planned around the district through April.
“One focus will be on improving fall prevention education for the patient and family while in hospital and on discharge, using hospital leaflets, ACC Vitamin D prescribing, and falls risk/home safety checklists.”