Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Catch ‘Em Before They Fall

Elderly man falling

Falls-risk assessment is currently a very active research area that is spurred on by the ageing populations in developed nations.

By Stephen Redmond

Biomedical engineers are developing a sensor that can predict when elderly people are going to fall.

Stephen Redmond is a lecturer in the University of NSW Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

One in three Australians aged over 65 years fall each year, and the injuries they suffer cost the Australian healthcare system more than $500 million (and rising) per annum. This ratio increases to one in every two people aged over 80 years, and in this age group injuries due to falls are seven times more numerous than all other causes of injury combined.

However, there is something quite impersonal about these cold hard facts. What is much harder to quantify is the personal cost of falls.

A lady aged in her mid-90s once told me of the ordeal she suffered after she fell down the stairs at home, lost consciousness and injured her hip. When she woke she could not stand up. She crawled to the next room to reach the telephone, and called for help. She now uses a walking frame wherever she goes.

Her story is all too common. Could something possibly have been done to help this woman if we had known that she was at risk of falling before she fell?

The answer to that question is “yes”. If we had known she was at risk of falling at an earlier stage, depending on her risk factors, we could have enrolled her in a muscle strengthening program, addressed any vision problems she might have had, or simply provided her with a walking aid. But how can we estimate her risk of falling in the future?

Falls-risk assessment is currently a very active...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.