“What is Falls Prevention? Is falling down really that big of a deal?” This was the question asked repeatedly when people heard about the T&T National Falls Prevention Program in March 2017. Hosted by Total Rehabilitation Ltd, the Physiotherapy Association of T&T, Springfield College in Massachusetts and supported by the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, the program was held at four venues around the country. Age Caribbean Consultants were pleased to speak at the event on the huge impact of falls, the causes of falls and how to prevent falls in older persons. I’ve included a brief overview of the excellent information provided at the program as a reminder, or for anybody who didn’t make it to the program.
Are falls really that big of a deal?
Absolutely. We do not have many figures for falls in the Caribbean, but a Latin America/Caribbean study found that approximately 21% of older adults in Barbados fell each year (more than one in 5 older persons) while in Chile it was as high as 34%, or over one third of older adults. In the UK, the figures are more detailed. Falls represent the most frequent and serious type of accident in people aged 65 and over. They are the main cause of disability and the leading cause of death from injury among people over 75. Falls are also extremely expensive. In the UK, hip injury costs up to 65 million dollars a day 
What happens after a fall?
After a certain age, it’s much harder to get back up and move along after a fall. Falling can cause a decrease in confidence in older persons. They may not want to go out anymore for fear of hurting themselves or being embarrassed. Injury from falls such as hip fractures, broken bones, brain damage and other injuries are very serious when our bodies are frailer. Having a fall over 65 can lead to becoming dependent, especially after a hip injury. Persons who experience a fall after 65 are twice as likely to fall again. So sometimes a fall can lead to many personal and social issues, while the resulting injuries can lead to expensive medical costs.
What causes older persons to fall?
As we get older, the changes we experience may contribute to our risk of falling. Things like increased frailty, reduced stability caused by side effects of medications, poorer vision and hearing, or brain changes can all increase the risk of falls.
Other environmental factors can also increase falls risk, such as having a cluttered space where things can cause you to trip and fall, inappropriate footwear, climbing stairs without proper railings, slippery surfaces like outdoor tile, or even high sidewalks or steep, narrow walkways in public places.
How can we prevent falls?
Physical and Occupational therapists gave some useful advice such as: using non-slip mats in bathrooms, using handlebars to help you get around your home, asking for help with potentially unsafe tasks and ensuring your home is well-lit so you can see where you’re going. But most importantly, they stressed how important exercise was to preventing falls. Going for a walk, dancing, creative, simple exercises at home and strength and balance exercises are key.
The bottom line? FALLS ARE PREVENTABLE. Let’s pay attention and prepare our homes to keep ourselves and loved ones safe.
 (Age UK, Stop Falling: Start Saving Lives and Money; World Health Organisation Global Report on Falls Prevention in Older Age 2007).
Dr James Bratt, Lead Consultant at Age Caribbean and Geriatric Psychicatrist.