Digital solutions: Tackling €400m cost associated with falls

Margaret Jennings speaks to the GP and broadcaster Dr Ciara Kelly about the importance of maintaining strength and agility to help prevent falls

Digital solutions: Tackling €400m cost associated with falls

Margaret Jennings speaks to the GP and broadcaster about the importance of maintaining strength and agility to help prevent falls

IF you have ever tripped up and fallen unexpectedly it can literally jolt you to the bone — leaving you rattled afterwards.

“I fell myself — it was to do with ice, last year — and it knocked the stuffing out of me. I was watching my footing more carefully, and all of that,” says GP and broadcaster, Dr Ciara Kelly. “I thought to myself: ‘If you are like this now in your 40s, what must it be like for somebody who is older?’

“It stays with people, it sets you right back; you become wary and it undermines your confidence.”

In her GP practice, Ciara regularly saw patients who suffered not just physically from a fall, but also psychologically.

“I also had first-hand experience of it with my mum, who died last year aged 91,” she tells Feelgood.

“Mum would have had multiple falls and each one would have taken it out of her in different ways. And obviously when someone falls, they can have quite significant injuries too — the common ones, like fractured wrists and fractures to the hip, and lots of aches and pains, but equally it has a very significant effect on people’s confidence.”

A third of adults aged over 65 in Ireland will experience at least one fall per year, with one fifth sustaining serious injury, and it is estimated that the annual healthcare costs associated with falls is €400m.

With Ireland’s over-65 population currently hitting the 637,567 mark and set to more than double by 2031, there is an increasing urgency to address the issue, as the fallout from such accidents can leave people feeling so vulnerable they become less independent and less inclined to socialise or move beyond their environment — all factors that are hugely important for ageing healthily.

While Ciara’s mum had access to a basic pendant alarm system within her home, she welcomes the technological changes that include digital care solutions such as the Home Assist Motech Careclip, which she helped launch recently and which monitors users’ activity, regardless of where they are, giving them the confidence to stay active within their communities.

She recalls a friend whose mum loved gardening and had quite a big garden but when she fell, she was out of the range of her alarm in the house and couldn’t get back up.

“It’s worrying that some older people can’t get back up after falling, so anything that helps protect them is good. And we should also encourage older people to use walking aids, or frames or a stick that they need because that’s a protection too.”

Issues such as failing eyesight or hearing can increase risk, so as we age we should get regular check-ups. But it’s not just the old who are at risk. We all need to maintain our agility and balance so that our reflexes are sharp enough to ‘catch’ that trip or stumble when we are caught off guard.

And it is important to build our muscle strength; the World Health Organisation guidelines for older people suggest that in addition to regular aerobic exercise, we need to do muscle-strengthening activities, involving major muscle groups, on two or more days a week.

Ciara agrees: “What we want is for people to stay safe. One of the biggest things that contribute to falls in older people is our muscles growing weaker and our balance becoming poorer. The best way to combat this and decrease risk is by exercising regularly at your own pace.”

Does she think that these days the “younger old”, 50-somethings, are now more conscious of maintaining muscle strength and staying physically active?

“I honestly think at 50 nowadays you are kind of becoming middle-aged. I don’t see it as older at all. And most 50-year-olds I know — who are only a few years older than me now, to be honest — are doing the same things they always did.

“I definitely think 50 is what 35 was some years ago and they don’t see themselves as older.”

Maintaining mobility as the years creep up is a lifestyle issue though, “We always see those fantastic things — like a woman maybe of 85 doing a triathlon, which is amazing and fabulous,” says the GP.

“But she didn’t start training for that triathlon at 84 — people who do that kind of stuff have maintained their physical strength all the way along. And of course, strength exercises are good for the bones as well as the muscles which means that if you do have a fall you are less likely to break something and that’s important too.

“There are so many things, we need to do, but mainly it’s about maintaining independence; maintaining mobility, maintaining muscle strength; looking after our eyesight and hearing — that you are not vulnerable and stepping out in front of a car or tripping over a kerb — and those things will stand to you.”

The Home Assist range is available in selected Boots pharmacies nationwide. To learn more about the different packages available, visit www.boots.ie/home-assist

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