Rose Anne Kenny, professor of medical gerontology at Trinity College Dublin, said she has already met with Minister for Older People Helen McEntee to discuss how such a service could be rolled out and will meet with Health Minister Simon Harris shortly to discuss the proposal.
The publication yesterday of the latest findings from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) shows that 40% of older adults had experienced a fall since the last wave of data was published in 2014. The study states: “20% sustained an injurious fall necessitating hospital attendance — this equates to 60,000 people per year in Ireland.”
Prof Kenny, lead researcher in the study and director of the Falls and Blackout Unit at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, said implementing five-day outpatient services for older people at risk of falls would help reduce next winter’s hospital attendance figures.
She said the average hospital stay of an older person who experiences a fall is 18 days, yet international research shows as much as 80% of falls could be prevented if the risks are detected earlier.
She said opening five-day services in six major hospitals would still cost just one eighth of having to treat older people in emergency departments and beyond once they have experienced a fall. “It is a resource saver, having a model like this. It’s equivalent to a saving of an 18-bed medical unit in a year,” said Prof Kenny.
She said implementing the service around the country need not take a long time.
“We have spent the last three years training up doctors and nurses nationally to have the skills to deliver this,” she said, adding that they will need to be “freed up” from other duties to apply those skills.
The TILDA study is examining the social, economic, and health circumstances of 8,175 community-dwelling adults aged 50 and older.
Pain is a common complaint, with one third of older adults saying they are affected, the majority with back pain.
The latest report shows a large proportion of older adults are not meeting the recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake, with marked overconsumption of food and drinks high in fat, salt, and sugar. Researchers said dietary patterns could be influenced by affordability of certain foods, meaning lower income may limit healthy food choices.
One in seven older adults experience urinary incontinence and almost one fifth of those in older age groups experience it. Just 21% of those who report fair or poor hearing use hearing aids. The report shows one in 20 older adults in Ireland experienced a major depressive episode in the last year but only 30% are prescribed appropriate medical therapy.
The rate of hospital admission among those aged 80 and above has increased significantly since earlier phases of the study.
The next wave of TILDA data is likely to be published next year.