Prevention of falls among elderly by timely home improvements

May 21, 2019 11:05
Prevention of falls among the elderly has been identified by the World Health Organization as a public health priority. Photo: RTHK

During a meeting recently with representatives from organizations focusing on senior wellness and health, I was reminded that medical care, fall prevention screening, physiotherapy and home improvement services for seniors in Hong Kong are all lagging behind the actual need.

In particular, many seniors are unable to fend for themselves after being seriously injured in a fall, and they end up staying in elderly homes, eventually further straining the public health system and nursing homes.

According to government statistics, some 30-40 percent of seniors aged 65 or above fall at least once per year. Seventy-five percent of those who fell suffered injuries including head damage and fracture.

A study involving 113 participants aged 60 or older conducted last year also showed that 20 percent of the seniors are highly prone to falls, but among this high-risk crowd, less than 20 percent of them have received physiotherapy or fall-prevention exercise training.

Forty percent of the respondents had suffered from falls at home, but less than 10 percent of the victims have installed senior-friendly facilities such as grab bars, anti-slip products and fences afterwards.

Prevention of falls among the elderly has been identified by the World Health Organization as a public health priority. To achieve this, we need to count on healthcare professionals to first identify causes of falls, followed by assessment and diagnosis. The injured senior will then be referred to physiotherapists, occupational therapists, or specialists for further treatments.

In Hong Kong, nearly 37 percent of the senior population currently lives in public estates. More than half of the elderly living alone take residence in public housing. To ensure their safety, based on professional recommendations, the Housing Authority has made enhancements to the flats occupied by the aging tenants, including laying anti-slip tiles, replacing bathtubs with shower enclosure, installation of grab bars and aligning the heights of balcony and the connecting living room.

However, it has been pointed out that enhancements of each flat typically take several months, and that the Housing Authority tends to focus mostly on seniors who are badly injured from falls, meaning that preventive measures take place after a new victim appears, not before.

In my opinion, the Housing Authority is obligated to take all seniors into account in enhancing their dwellings.

Falls are definitely not something inevitable in the ageing process. The government must increase its financial support to the Housing Authority, so that fall prevention can be realized through proactive home improvements and enhanced safety.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 10

Translation by Connie Li

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative councilor and head of nursing and health studies in the Open University of Hong Kong