Warning: Your home can be a dangerous place

Accidents that happen in the home put more people in hospital than those that occur on the roads, new statistics have revealed.

Singapore's first trauma registry report shows that 1,484 were injured around the house in 2012.

The figure makes up more than a third of the 4,278 moderately to severely injured hospital patients that year.

In contrast, there were 1,246 trauma patients from traffic accidents, or 29 per cent of the cases.

The rest were hurt in workplace accidents or in public areas.

Two in five trauma patients were people aged 65 and above. Doctors said people in this age group face danger regardless of place because of their weaker vision and muscles.

Dr Philip Iau, head of general surgery at the National University Hospital (NUH), who was in the National Trauma Registry Workgroup, blames the high incidence of injuries in the home on the "failure to identify at-risk individuals".

He added that intervention strategies to prevent these accidents have been "under-studied" here.

Workgroup member Shaun Goh, from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, said hospital records show that many elderly victims suffer only minor injuries.

But Dr Goh added that they are less likely to bounce back from a fall than younger patients, with some suffering "significant brain trauma resulting in poor outcomes".

Many older patients who died had suffered complications such as pneumonia or blood poisoning during hospital treatment - rather than from the injury itself.

Dr Goh said these patients sometimes have chronic diseases that make it difficult to manage them after an accident.

He suggested: "It is sometimes important to engage occupational therapists caring for elderly and frail patients to ensure their homes are safe- proofed and the risk of falls is reduced."

Precautions include grab bars in toilets and foam flooring to reduce the impact of falls.

Dr Chiu Ming Terk, chairman of the trauma workgroup, said there are already various programmes in place to address the problem, such as the Housing Board's elderly-friendly retrofits.

He added that since April, the Ministry of Health has been helping needy seniors by providing therapists to assess and identify hazards in their homes, and to suggest modifications to reduce their risk of falling.

There are also subsidies to help those in need of mobility aids such as walking sticks and motorised wheelchairs.

Since 2011, the Health Promotion Board's 12-week strength-training exercise programme has helped more than 300 people reduce their risk of falling by improving their strength and balance.

Dr Chiu added that the elderly account for an increasing number of patients with severe injuries, with falls being the main cause.

Very severely injured patients, with prolonged intensive care, long hospital stays and rehabilitation, can use up a lot of resources such as blood products and staffing, he said.

The report released last month does not include 519 victims who died at the scene of the accident.

Singapore has five other national medical registries - for cancer, kidney failure, stroke, heart attack and donor care.


This article was first published on August 16, 2014.
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