15 October 2019.
This is part of a series of articles showcasing Sax Institute members, and the diverse range of research that’s informing future health policy and practice.
Accidental falls can have a devastating impact on the elderly and are shockingly common. Now the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) is using evidence-based research to not only minimise the risk of falls – they’re also working with the Royal Commission into Aged Care to improve care in residential facilities.
Compared with heart disease and dementia, accidental falls might sound less serious, but the grim reality is that falls are the leading cause of injury-related death and hospitalisation in older people. Even in the controlled environment of an aged care facility, roughly 50% of residents will experience one or more falls a year.
It’s an invisible and unpredictable health threat, but according to Dr Frances Batchelor, Director of Clinical Gerontology at NARI, many of these falls are preventable. “We shouldn’t just say that falls are an inevitable part of ageing and that they are all going to happen,” says Dr Batchelor. “Falls don’t happen in isolation from other issues such as nutrition, or even oral care. They’re all interrelated.”
Preventing falls in aged care
NARI is a Sax Institute member, and one of Australia’s leading institutes on ageing. Given the prevalence of falls among older Australians, NARI has made falls prevention and physical activity key research priorities, using evidence-based research to uncover the physiological and behavioural risk factors behind falls, as well as developing prevention strategies.
This expertise led to Dr Batchelor’s recent appearance at the Royal Commission into Aged Care, where the Commission heard that residential aged care lags in its approach to exercise for residents.
“Research has shown that strength and balance training for two hours a week over 25 weeks – for a total of 50 hours – is effective at reducing falls in the community,” says Dr Batchelor. “But without the equivalent research specifically in aged care, it is not as clear whether that recommendation also applies equally to residents.”
NARI told the Commission that there is an urgent need for more high-quality research to learn how to effectively prevent falls in residential care, especially for people living with dementia.
“From our perspective, we hope that the Royal Commission will ensure that the sector offers the quality of life and quality of care that all older Australians deserve, and whatever we can do to help that happen, we will,” says Dr Batchelor. “However, until findings from new research become available, the sector needs to be proactive and come up with comprehensive falls risk assessments and management plans.”
NARI believes these changes should include increasing the number of staff involved in direct resident care; increasing falls prevention training for all staff; improving how data is collected; and implementing person-centred care.
“If we can support staff to offer truly person-centred assessment and care, then I think that will go a long way to prevent falls,” adds Dr Batchelor.
As the Commission continues to roll on, NARI’s research into falls prevention will continue to have a powerful impact on health service providers, governments and the aged care industry, ultimately supporting changes that can give older Australians healthier and fuller lives.
The Sax Institute’s unique organisational structure, with 55 members from public health and health services research groups and their universities, connects us with a powerful public health network and world‑leading research expertise.
Read more about the Sax Institute’s members here.