A falls service from County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust is tackling the issue by offering a 12 week programme of weekly sessions for people who have either had a fall or who are considered at increased risk of falling.
The programme runs at five of the Trust’s hospitals and is led by physiotherapists and occupational therapists who use equipment to build strength and balance among patients.
Physiotherapist Natalie Gutteridge and occupational therapist Clare Regan run the clinic at The Richardson Hospital, Barnard Castle.
Gutteridge said that the team work with small groups so each person gets a lot of personal attention.
She said: “An initial assessment looks at strength, balance and general walking ability, before creating an individual exercise programme. This might include spending time on our exercise bike or even using our Wii Fit – plus a few exercises to do at home.
“At the end of the 12 weeks, a reassessment often produces amazing results and many people tell us they feel transformed both physically and in confidence.
“It’s all done gently and gradually, there’s no pressure. Although many of our patients are in the older age group, we also work with younger people.
One patient, Brian Wilkins, who has first-hand experience of the falls service, said: “I had a serious hip fracture following a fall about five years ago. The care I received from the orthopaedic team at Darlington Memorial Hospital, then at The Richardson Hospital, where I went to begin my recovery was wonderful.
“But I think the injury affected my gait and possibly even my balance. I’ve had care subsequently from physiotherapists, which has been helpful, but I’ve been really impressed with the falls clinic. Having an individualised programme of exercises, coming back every week and having exercises to do at home, give a real focus.”
Vicki Hird, occupational therapist, who is helping lead the trust’s focus on falls prevention, said: “Each day, across the country, 500 people are admitted to hospital following a fall. Of those 500, very sadly, 33 never return home, so it’s really important that we identify those at risk of falling and offer them the support they need to reduce their risk.
“This could be a programme such as the one Brian has found so useful, some equipment at home or lifestyle advice. As well as older people and those who have already had a fall we also work with people who have long term conditions such as Parkinson’s, or who have had a stroke.”