Study shows where in western Victoria people are injured most from falls

Media release
06 November 2019

New Deakin University research has pinpointed the parts of Western Victoria with the highest rates of falls, something researchers say must be better prevented, especially with Australia's ageing population.

The research from Deakin's Epi-Centre for Healthy Ageing - part of the IMPACT Strategic Research Centre at Barwon Health - looked at both falls from a low and high height in those aged over 40 years, through analysis of emergency presentations by local government area.

Low fall rates peaked in Moyne, Corangamite and Colac-Otway local government areas, while falls from above 1m were most common in Corangamite. Low falls mostly occurred in the home and during leisure activities, while falls from a height mostly occurred during leisure activities, followed by work.

Lead researcher Dr Kara Holloway said falls could have serious health impacts and were likely to increase with Australia's ageing population, so it was important to monitor where and how they were occurring, with the aim to develop prevention strategies.

"This study specifically looked at over 40s because falls, both from a high and low height, are more problematic in older people and can result in serious injuries. This is because older people are less able to tolerate stressors and injury than younger people," Dr Holloway said.

"We hope these data will help pinpoint what the best fall prevention strategies are in each part of Western Victoria, so prevention measures can be tailored to those regions."

The Deakin study found:

  • Colac-Otway had the highest percentage of falls occurring while being nursed or cared for and in residential institutions.
  • Surf Coast had the highest percentage of falls during a sporting activity and at athletics or sports areas.
  • West Wimmera and Moyne had the highest percentage of falls during work activities and falls that occurred in a farming environment.
  • Falls occurring on a road, street or highway were most common in Ararat.
  • A higher proportion of women than men experienced a fall from height during leisure time.
  • Men were more likely to fall undertaking work activities than women.

Dr Holloway said falls from a height could include falling from the roof of a building, a balcony, window, ladder, staircase or other high-level structure.

"These types of falls are associated with significant injury, as well as substantial healthcare costs. They are also the major cause of injury in work environments and 11 per cent of all work-related deaths in Australia are the result of a fall from height," she said.

"However, they are much less common than falls from a low height. Falls from a low height occur mainly in older adults, particularly those in poor health, and although the level of trauma is not that high, due to the frailty of some older individuals they can result in severe injuries such as hip fractures.

"Falls of all types can result in substantial injury and healthcare costs, not only economically, but also to the individual involved. Some falls that result in severe injury - for example hip fracture - are debilitating for the individual. They have a long hospital stay, followed by rehabilitation and sometimes do not regain the same level of function they had before the fall."

Tips to reduce the risk of a fall:

  • Falls from height, particularly from ladders, can be reduced by following clear guidelines. For example, not leaning too far away from the ladder, and having someone hold it while it is being used.
  • In the workplace, falls from height can be reduced by following the WorkSafe guidelines, ensuring that safety equipment is appropriately used and maintained.
  • Falls from a low height can be reduced by removing loose items that are tripping hazards - for example mats or power cords - and modifying the home environment, such as installing grip handles in bathrooms.
  • Individuals can also reduce their risk of falls through balance exercises, as well as ensuring they have appropriate footwear and corrective lenses if they require them.

These studies were recently published in the journal Australasian Emergency Care and form part of the larger Ageing, Chronic Disease and Injury study, which aims to investigate the burden of chronic diseases across the region of western Victoria.

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