Championing our community to stay on their feet and safe at home

Seventy four year old Marie Sincock from Woolston has dedicated much of her life to caring for others, even turning her home into a Residential Home for people with disabilities. But, after being diagnosed with Leukaemia last year she became unsteady on her feet and prone to falling.

“I was very anaemic and my muscles became weak. I would crash my way down the hallway and on one occasion I fell and ended up on the floor for quite a while, before I could find the strength to crawl to the kitchen and pull myself up onto a chair,” says Marie.

“Another time I fell taking out the rubbish bin and ended up in the garden, but at least it was a soft landing.” 

Marie was referred to the Falls Prevention Service and Community Physiotherapist and Falls Champion Heather Bushaway visited her in her home. 

“Supporting people to stay well in their own home for longer is something that the Canterbury health system has been working on for a while and Falls Champions are helping with this,” says Heather. 

“Because of Marie’s health concerns it was even more important we reduced her risk of falls, as the outcome of a fall could be much more severe for her.”

Canterbury’s Falls Champions are key players in the region’s Falls Prevention Programme. They can either be physiotherapists, nurses or occupational therapists and are part of a team that works together to help prevent a person from falling. They work and liaise with the person’s general practice, a pharmacist and their wider healthcare team if needed. 

“It’s a great opportunity to visit people in their homes, because we often see issues not visible to other members of their health care team, such as an unhealthy diet, not taking medication properly or their environment not being safe, such as trip hazards and no hand rails in the shower,” says Heather.

“We then contact their GP to let them know their patient has been seen by a Falls Champion and whether we need input from them. We can also refer to other services such as, Age Concern, Medication Management, or Senior Chef cooking classes.”

If appropriate Falls Champions will refer people to community based exercise programmes. Sometimes they just need to build some strength doing the home based exercises, before they can graduate to the community classes. The Live Stronger for Longer website has a list of ACC accredited community strength and balance classes.

“Heather showed me the exercises and then watched me doing them. It was helpful to have her visit me in my home and she also left me a booklet to guide me when I do my exercises on my own,” says Marie.

A walking frame and equipment for the bathroom, such as a shower chair and higher toilet seat were also organised for Marie. 

“I have felt really well supported to stay safe in my home and everything has been so well organised. I continue to do my exercises every day and use my walking frame, which is building my strength and I feel stronger.” 

“I really encourage others who are at risk of falling to take the Falls Prevention Programme and commit to doing the exercises, because it has really helped me.”

“A third of people over 65 years fall each year in Canterbury, which can lead to significant disability, hospitalisation, loss of independence and reduced quality of life,” say Heather.

A fall can lead to a person becoming fearful of falling again, so they move less and as a result lose strength and balance and their risk of falling again increases.  

“People can be at risk of falls for all sorts of reasons and sometimes the solutions are quite simple. The combination of exercise, altering their home and wider support if needed, can help decrease the risks.”

People over 65 years or over 55 years for Māori and Pasifika can be referred by any member of their healthcare team or they can refer themselves to the Falls Prevention Programme. 

Heather is also part of the Canterbury Clinical Network Falls and Fractures Service Level Alliance, which looks at ways health care providers can work together to reduce falls. The group includes people from across the system, including consumers, geriatricians, GPs, community physiotherapists, and people from St John, an aged residential care facility, home-based support service provider, planning and funding, ACC, the Fracture Liaison Service and Sport Canterbury.

It can take a team to prevent a person from falling is the theme of this year’s April Falls Awareness Month, which will be marked in September (Stand Up September). The month aims to raise awareness of the harm that can be caused from falls and what can be done to prevent them. 

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Facts and figures

  • The number of referrals to Canterbury’s Falls Prevention Programme last year at 2127, was the highest since it started eight years ago.
    There has been more than 10,000 referrals over all.
  • The Programme uses the Otago Exercise Programme, which results in a 30% reduction in falls. 
  • The Falls Prevention Service is helping to reduce serious falls requiring hospital admission for hip fractures. The effect of this is that it is avoiding the equivalent of a hospital ward of admissions each year in Canterbury.
  • If a person has fallen they are two to three times more likely to fall again, unless they participate in a strengthening programme. 
  • Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in New Zealand. 
  • More than 95% of falls among older people occur in the community and aged care facilities.
  • More than 2000 people 75 years and over attend the Emergency Department after a fall each year in Canterbury.

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