When a stumble darkens a life

PHOTO: When a stumble darkens a life

With Korean pop-star Psy's hit song Gentleman blaring in the background, you would think that you were passing by a party for teens.

But most people in the room are older than 60. As they wave their arms to the beat, you would never guess they are trying to keep every family's nightmare at bay - the trauma that follows when an elderly person suffers a fall.

The elderly are more prone to falls than any other age group. As they lose their strength and balance, a slight trip or misjudgment can see them tumble to the ground. International studies show that one in three persons above the age of 65 falls each year.

What follows can be worse. With more brittle bones and a longer healing process, a single bad fall can worsen their quality of life. Some find themselves struggling to move.

According to research by Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) in 2009, 22 per cent of emergency department admissions at the hospital involved people above the age of 65. Of these, 13.9 per cent were due to falls.

Fractures are a worry, said Joanne Kua, a consultant at TTSH's department of geriatric medicine.

"There is a higher prevalence of osteoporosis in the older age group, resulting in a higher rate of fractures after a fall, as compared with younger adults," she said.

An 87-year-old woman who fell suffered a pelvis and vertabrae-compression fracture and could barely move.

TTSH is now trying to protect these seniors even before they fall.

Since piloting its Stepping Out Into Active Life programme in 2009, it has screened a total of 2,836 seniors and roped in over 1,300 participants in its programme to improve balance and leg strength.

From running it in just three areas in 2012, it has reached out to 11 areas.

The elderly are put through an exercise regime, with an element of dance and music thrown in.

One participant is Madam Tang Toh Chun, 85, who attends bi-weekly sessions at a Lion Befrienders senior activities centre in Bendemeer.

Previously she could not even bend her legs. "Now my joints are much looser and I can walk much further," she said.

She once tripped over a kerb, but managed to cushion her fall with her hands. Many are not as fortunate and suffer injuries to the head, hips or forearms, said Dr Kua.

Some find themselves unable to walk freely. Others, afraid of falling again, lapse into a less active lifestyle.

Physiotherapist Tricia Yeo, 26, said that failing eyesight, physical weakness and the environment in which they spend most of their day - all play a part in that dreaded stumble.

That is why occupational therapists assess the homes of the elderly and sometimes place yellow tape on steps to warn them of the danger.

"Getting them started is not easy, as they might be fearful of falling and are not willing to do the exercises, said Ms Yeo.

"So we start slow and over time they trust us and many walk out of the programme much stronger and more confident."


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