Aged Care Research

$4M study aims to reduce senior falls by 40%


Older Aussies could be a lot less likely to take a dangerous tumble, thanks to an important new research project. Scientists at James Cook University are leading a $4 million study that could decrease the chances of seniors having falls by up to 40%.

The study, led by Dr Alison Pighills, will look at the risks in seniors’ homes that make falls more likely. This includes hazards like loose rugs or poor lighting. But it will also consider personal risk factors like using a cane or walker, health issues, age, gender and ethnic background.

Things like alcohol use, clothing that could cause tripping and footwear choice will all be examined. The occupational therapists will then work with the seniors to identify potential dangers and come up with solutions together.

“The focus of this study is about changing practice and implementation. EAM is something OTs do a lot but not necessarily to look at people’s risk of falling,” Dr Pighills said.

Over the next five years, occupational therapists at 12 locations across Australia will receive special training in using this new assessment approach. Ten sites will be in Queensland, with two others in different states. Therapists from public and private health organisations will all take part.

Previous research has shown this method can cut falls among high-risk seniors by about 39%. “One of the reasons why we think EAM is so effective is because it’s a partnership approach with the client,” she said.

“The person will identify what they think increases their risk of falling when they feel unsafe doing certain tasks, and the OT will encourage them to not only identify their own risks but also identify their own solutions.”

So if this bigger study has the same results, it could make a huge difference safeguarding older Australians. “We hope this study will have a massive impact on reducing the risk of falls for elderly people not just within Australia but worldwide,” said Dr Pighills.

“There’s nothing to say an Occupational Therapist couldn’t carry out that assessment if a relative or healthcare support worker recorded the client at home doing functional tasks,” she said. “That’s where I want to go with it so we make this intervention accessible to more people who live in those remote areas.”

The study is being funded by a $2.6 million grant from the Australian government’s Medical Research Future Fund, along with $1.4 million of in-kind support from partner universities and organisations.

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