August 3, 2021

Just how likely am I to experience a fall? Falls in the elderly: facts, numbers and trends

This report outlines the statistics around falls in the over 65s, including figures on the most common outcomes for people who fall, plus the total cost of falls to the NHS and social care. We’ve also detailed some top advice on how to avoid the worst, yet unfortunately common, effects that are associated with falls.

Here at Felgains, we’ve been supporting people to live independently for over 40 years. Since 1977, we’ve provided expert advice to both health and care organisations, as well as individuals living in the community. We’re proud to offer innovative solutions that help people to stay steady on their feet, as well as improve outcomes for people who have fallen.

How many elderly people experience a fall? The scale of the problem

A third of people over 65, and half of people over 80, fall at least once a year1 . That means that every year in the UK, at least 5 million people will experience at least one fall.

Care home residents, of which there are approximately 400,000 in the UK, are three times more likely to fall than people living independently in their own homes2. That equates to a rate of 1.5 falls per care home bed per year3.

The aftermath of a fall: getting help and the consequences of long lies

If you’re unable to raise yourself up following a fall, you’re going to need help getting off the floor. However, enlisting someone to physically lift you off the floor is risky, and your helper is highly likely to injure themselves, as well as you.

 

Although a small sample size, a training session for informal carers at the University of Birmingham revealed that 75% of participants had hurt themselves while undertaking moving and handling activities with their relative4.

 

If your helper doesn’t have access to a mechanical lifting aid, the safest and often only feasible option is to wait for an ambulance. However, this can also present danger.

Ambulance response times and long lies

According to James Gough of the Welsh Ambulance Service, falls are the second most common reason for an ambulance call out in Wales, with similar figures across the UK.

However, people who have fallen, but not sustained any injuries, are usually triaged as “category four” patients. This is the lowest priority category for ambulance services in the UK, and therefore patients who have fallen will typically wait hours for help to arrive.

In May 2021, the average response time for Category 4 calls in the UK was 2 hours 32 minutes and 90% of calls were responded to in 5 hours and 33 minutes or under5.

 

More than one hour spent on the floor following a fall is known as a “long lie”6, and long-lies are associated with serious complications, including pressure sores, dehydration, hypothermia, pneumonia and acute kidney failure (Rhabdomyolysis).

According to registered paramedic, James Gough, who recently hosted a webinar exclusively for Felgains on the topic of falls, patients who suffer long lies “will start to come to harm”, and there is “massive amounts of research that show the longer someone stays on the floor, the worse their outcomes are going to be.”

A study following older people living in Cambridge found that lying on the floor for a prolonged period after a fall was associated with repeated falls, fall induced injuries, and subsequent admissions to hospital and long-term care7.

In fact, a fifth of elderly people who are admitted to hospital after they have had a non-injury fall will have been left on the floor for more than an hour. And of those, half will die within six months from related complications (Velas et al, 1997).

 

Watch a BBC report on how Southampton City Council are reducing pressure on the ambulance service and improving outcomes for fallen residents with the Raizer Emergency Lifting Chair.

 

Hospitalisation due to falls

In around 5% of cases, a fall leads to a fracture and hospitalisation8.

Falls are the number one reason older people are taken to the emergency department at hospital9.

There are around 255,000 falls-related emergency hospital admissions in England among patients aged 65 and over each year.

According to NHS data, almost 100,000 older people (over 65s) sustained fractured hips in 2017/18. The average hospital stay following hip fracture surgery is 21.1 days10. And people who sustain hip fractures face increased one-year mortality of between 18% and 33%11.

However, many falls do not cause the person immediate injuries. In this common eventuality, the best thing is to help the person back to their feet as quickly as possible. Aside from reducing the chance of coming to physical harm, this can also reduce the trauma the person experiences.

 

Learn more about how a Raizer M emergency lifting aid can empower you to safely and quickly lift a loved one from the floor.

 

The long-term consequences of a fall

Aside from physical injuries, the mental and emotional toll of a fall cannot be underestimated, even in people who have not been harmed. A survey commissioned by Age UK has found that millions of older people are worried about falling over, with 4.3 million (36%) saying it topped their list of concerns12.

A fear of falling can result in a reluctance to undertake everyday activities, which in turn can lead to social isolation and increasing frailty. All of which increase a person’s chances of experiencing a fall13. Some people who have experienced a traumatic fall also resort to drinking less fluid, as they’re scared of falling while taking trips to the toilet – particularly if the call of nature comes at night.

Daimon Wheddon, area clinical lead at East of England Ambulance Service has reported that crews “regularly see dehydration as a contributory factor in our elderly patients who have fallen; common complications include low blood pressure, weakness and dizziness, all of which can increase the risk of falls”14.

Falls can also ultimately rob an individual of their independence, with 40% of care home admissions recording a fall as a contributing factor to entering residential care15.
One way of helping ease your own or a loved one’s concern could be formulating a plan of action in the event of a fall. More on that later.

Falls: how much do they cost the taxpayer?

Falls are estimated to cost the NHS more than £2.3 billion per year16. Of that figure, around £1 billion is spent on treating hip fractures alone17. It is projected that there will be an additional 7.5 million people aged 65 years and over in the UK in 50 years’ time18. And so, unless there are radical changes in policy, such as a higher focus on prevention and improvement to falls-response strategies, the financial toll of falls on the UK government is only set to increase.

What can you do to safeguard yourself or a loved one from the worst effects of a fall?

 

Prevent a fall

There are lots of tactics you can employ to help prevent a slip or trip. Check out our list of five simple modifications that can help prevent a tumble.

And, as we mentioned previously, do try and keep yourself or your loved one well hydrated. As well as reducing fluid intake due to fear of falling, certain medical conditions and medications can reduce a person’s sense of thirst, making it difficult to take in enough water.

 

Read how the Raizer Emergency Lifting Chair helped domiciliary care organisation Home Instead achieve an ‘Outstanding’ rating from the Care Quality Commission

 

Formulate a falls action plan

Consider how the person you’re concerned about would access help: would they be able to shout for someone in their household? Does the person have sufficiently regular visitors who are able to let themselves into the home?

If not, perhaps the older person might feel more at ease if they carry a fully-charged mobile phone on their person, with a dedicated contact they know will be reachable by phone. Or they might prefer to instead wear a pendant alarm which is linked to a dedicated falls-response service.

You might also want to think about the kind of help the person would be best receiving. If the person is uninjured following a fall, the best way of helping them would be to get them off the floor as quickly as possible. Considering the pressures that the ambulance service is contending with, the quickest way of doing this is almost certainly to utilise an emergency lifting aid, such as the Raizer Lifting Chair.

The Raizer is a mechanical lifting aid that comprises of as seat unit, backrests and legs. To operate the chair, you assemble the pieces around the fallen person. You then either press a button or turn the crank handle which forces the chair legs, which begin from a starting position of flat against the floor, to push down against the ground. This causes the chair to raise.

Emergency lifting aids such as the Raizer Lifting Chair provide the power to get your loved one back on their feet again as quickly as possible, avoiding a traumatic wait for an ambulance, as well as the knock-on effects that long lies can cause.

And although falling is never nice, getting your loved one up quickly and with minimal fuss can help avoid the long-term costs of a fall, such as a loss of confidence, and help safeguard your loved one’s independence. Which as we all know, is priceless.

View the range of Raizer Emergency Lifting Chairs

 


 

Citations

[1]  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/falls/

[2]  https://www.bgs.org.uk/blog/falls-in-care-homes-%E2%80%9Clet%E2%80%99s-go-and-invent-tomorrow-instead-of-worrying-about-what-happened

[3] https://www.bgs.org.uk/blog/falls-in-care-homes-%E2%80%9Clet%E2%80%99s-go-and-invent-tomorrow-instead-of-worrying-about-what-happened

[4] Wyton, J., 2018. Moving and Handling in the Community: the Real Cost of an Informal Carer. Pielegniarstwo XXI wieku / Nursing in the 21st Century, 17(2), pp.23-26.

[5] https://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/resource/ambulance-response-times

[6] Fleming, J. and Brayne, C., 2008. Inability to get up after falling, subsequent time on floor, and summoning help: prospective cohort study in people over 90. BMJ, 337(nov17 1), pp.a2227-a2227.

[7] Fleming, J. and Brayne, C., 2008. Inability to get up after falling, subsequent time on floor, and summoning help: prospective cohort study in people over 90. BMJ, 337(nov17 1), pp.a2227-a2227.

[8] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/falls-applying-all-our-health/falls-applying-all-our-health

[9] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/falls-applying-all-our-health/falls-applying-all-our-health

[10] https://www.wsh.nhs.uk/News-room/news-posts/West-Suffolk-top-in-the-east-of-England-for-hip-fracture-care.aspx

[11] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/falls-applying-all-our-health/falls-applying-all-our-health

[12] https://www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-press/articles/2019/may/falls-in-later-life-a-huge-concern-for-older-people/

[13] 2021. [ebook] Available at: <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/586382/falls_and_fractures_consensus_statement.pdf> [Accessed 24 July 2021].

[14] https://www.westsuffolkccg.nhs.uk/dehydration-can-lead-fall/

[15] https://www.careinspectorate.com/index.php/news/3270-falls-and-fractures-in-care-homes

[16] https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg161/chapter/introduction

[17] https://www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-press/articles/2019/may/falls-in-later-life-a-huge-concern-for-older-people/

[18] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/articles/overviewoftheukpopulation/january2021

Back to Blog