New test to help assess seniors' risk of falling

Mr Soh Chin Siang doing exercises at the Nee Soon South Community Nurse Post. According to a geriatric consultant, it is important for people at high risk of falling to boost their muscle strength.
Mr Soh Chin Siang doing exercises at the Nee Soon South Community Nurse Post. According to a geriatric consultant, it is important for people at high risk of falling to boost their muscle strength.ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Assessment will include questionnaire on medical history, mobility and physical tests

A new initiative to reduce the number of falls will pose three questions to 12,000 seniors aged 65 years and older living in the north:

•Have you fallen in the past 12 months?

• Do you avoid going out because you are scared of falling?

•Do you feel like you are going to fall when getting up or walking?

If the answer is yes to any question, the person is at least at moderate risk of falls and will be asked to take the Preventive Falls Risk Assessment. Done at one of four centres or even at home, it includes a questionnaire that takes into account an individual's medical history and mobility, and physical tests - for instance, the time taken by a person to get up off a seat, walk to a designated spot, and return to it.

The time this takes is automatically recorded by a cushion on the seat, designed by Ngee Ann Poly-technic's Electrical Engineering Division. The person's blood pressure is also recorded.

Dr Mallya Jagadish Ullal, a senior geriatric consultant at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), said standing up suddenly may result in a big drop in blood pressure that could lead to dizziness and a fall.


Mr Soh Chin Siang doing exercises at the Nee Soon South Community Nurse Post. According to a geriatric consultant, it is important for people at high risk of falling to boost their muscle strength. ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

The assessment will also review any medication, some of which can make a person drowsy and prone to falls. Other reasons for falls include poor vision, which can be corrected. There can also be contrasting colours in the house to make trip hazards - like steps - easier to spot.

Many elderly people are also deficient in vitamin D, which is needed for bones to absorb calcium.

Dr Mallya said people with dementia or Parkinson's disease are at the highest risk of falling because their minds and bodies are out of step with each other.

Families and caregivers need to realise the importance of removing anything that could be a trip hazard, even rugs. Having grab bars around the house can be a big help.

It was one put in recently that saved Mr Soh Chin Siang, 74, from a fall in the shower when his right knee suddenly gave out.

But one of the most difficult aspects of falling to fix is the fear of falling, said Dr Mallya. About half of older people worry about this because of a previous fall. He said: "Seniors fear falling, so they cut down on their activities. Their muscles get weaker, their balance gets worse, so they have even greater fear of falling."

It is important for people at high risk of falling to boost their muscle strength and improve their sense of balance and flexibility, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2015, with the headline 'New test to help assess seniors' risk of falling'. Print Edition | Subscribe