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Keep clear of falls in the autumn of your life.

Byline: By Craig Thompson

Elderly people across Newcastle and Sunderland have been receiving a helping hand as part of a falls awareness scheme. Craig Thompson finds out how the region is leading the country in keeping our pensioners healthy.

Behind the doors of Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary, work is going on to develop a rapid response service for victims of falls.

Sister Pam Reeve is the Newcastle NHS Trust clinical nurse specialist for falls.

She is also the manager of the Falls and Syncope Service, located at the RVI. It was set up in 1991 and was the UK's first falls service.

Pam has been involved from the very beginning, taking an active role in its development.

She has been instrumental in attracting increased funding to develop rapid-response services for in-patients, those who have fallen and those who attend casualty or come to the attention of the North East Ambulance Service.

The unit specialises in identifying, investigating and managing falls in older people. It is now the largest facility of its kind in Europe and sees over 3,500 patients a year, most of them over 65.

Patients are referred to the unit with a range of problems such as balance disorders, dizziness, low blood pressure and unspecified lack of co-ordination falls.

They then have a series of investigations to establish the cause of their condition.

Pam said: "In the falls service we assess, identify and treat risk factors for falls, blackouts, dizziness and osteoporosis."

During a patient's typical journey through the Falls and Syncope Service they will have:

A full medical and physical assessment.

A check of heart and blood pressure.

Assessment of walking, balance and muscle strength.

Eyesight check.

Medication check.

Osteoporosis screening.

Assessment of home hazards.

Pam has an active role in teaching and training health care professionals both in the North East and nationally.

She also helps people to identify and reduce the risk of falls, developing relevant patient information.

In addition, she has been involved in the implementa-tion of a falls risk assess-ment measure and success-fully organised the first national falls conference for nurses.

Just last week, she helped arrange one of the events being held in Newcastle to mark the first National Falls Awareness day in the UK which is led by Help the Aged, the national charity.

The aim of the day was to raise awareness of the positive activities older people can participate in to reduce their risk of falling.

Pam said: "Falls and the fear of falling are serious issues for older people, causing anxiety and distress.

"Falls represent the most frequent and serious type of accident in the over 65s.

"They destroy confid-ence, increase isolation and reduce independence.

"The after effects of even the most minor fall can be catastrophic for an older person's physical and mental health.

"Limited physical activity or exercise reduces muscle strength and affects balance making falls and injury more likely."

Around 30% of older people will fall per year, this rises to 50% in those aged over 85.

Injuries may include broken hips, arms, wrists, which can often result in a reduced quality of life and makes those affected more dependant on carers.

New evidence suggests that falls can be reduced by 50% when an individual's risks of falling are assessed and action taken to reduce them.

Pam added: "It is never to late to start reducing the risk of falls."
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 25, 2005
Words:566
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