Page last updated at 23:58 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 00:58 UK

The pensioners cutting elderly falls

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Picture: Cristina Pedrazzini/SPL
The elderly are getting tips to avoid falls

Every year, more than 700,000 people over 65 attend accident and emergency after a fall.

And falls are the leading cause of death for the over-75s.

But one primary care trust in Lancashire has managed to slash its falls rate by a quarter - thanks in no small measure to the efforts of one elderly couple.

Pensioners Dorothy Atkinson, 75, and husband Geoffrey, 81, have dedicated themselves to educating their contemporaries about falls.

Protecting the elderly

Along with other pensioners, the couple go to homes and sheltered accommodation pointing out hazards to the occupants in a bid to try and protect them.

"Neither of us have had any falls - we daren't," said Dorothy.

They have lived there for such a long time and do not notice when things need replacing when the carpet has crept out or there is a wire creeping under the settee
Dorothy Atkinson

"Because we are their age group we can deal with them man-to-man or woman-to-woman and they don't feel we are putting any pressure on.

"They feel it is helpful having us deal with them and they are not frightened of talking to us.

"We have a list of things that are more detrimental to them than others.

"We warn them about taking care of their footwear, and how medication can cause you to have dizzy spells

"We tell them to have eye sight tests and to keep themselves fit, but above all lack of concentration plays a great big part, and getting over-tired."

Danger spots

The couple are part of a falls team from East Lancashire PCT who go into the community to try and promote safety.

Other methods used by the team include Tai Chi for the elderly and working with the ambulance service to highlight fall hotspots.

These helped to ensure the scheme won the patient safety award at the recent NHS Health and Social Care Awards.

The winning team with CMO Liam Donaldson
Dorothy and Geoffrey (4th and 5th in from the left) talk to the elderly

The Awards, which are run in partnership between the Department of Health and the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, are designed to recognise breakthrough ideas from frontline staff that improve care and access to services.

Sue Tracey, clinical specialist occupational therapist at the trust, agreed that falls are a major problem for the elderly and can have disastrous results.

"There are the physical problems that can occur after a fall.

"The most difficult one clinically is a fracture, but the fear of falls can also really impact on the older person's ability to age successfully because it can impact on the activities they can do, and the amount of socialisation.

"Because falls are recognised as such a big problem there is quite a lot that can be done to raise awareness to work towards preventing falls so that older people can be helped to age successfully and to enjoy their older age.

"It is simple things, such as being aware of possible risks within your own home - and that might be things like worn carpets and poor lighting and recognising that as you age your physical abilities change.

"Your eyesight changes and your balance and mobility might change and things that you might have done in the past - running up and down stairs, for example - now might become rather different so an extra banister rail might make all the difference.

"The more we can raise awareness for them and the simple things they can do themselves to reduce falls the better it is going to be."

Getting access

Dorothy agreed, but added that one of their most difficult challenges was actually accessing those at risk.

"We do go to sheltered accommodation, but it is people who live alone are the ones who are most at risk

"They have lived there for such a long time and do not notice when things need replacing, when the carpet has crept out or there is a wire creeping under the settee.

"We would point out things that they might not have noticed."

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