Have you ever wondered why most people end up in hospital? Car crashes probably come to mind. It’s a good guess but not quite right, road accidents are actually number two on the list.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the leading cause of hospitalisation is actually falls. Yes, falling down. More people end up in emergency rooms because they’ve tripped or slipped than anything else.

The AIWH examined nationwide hospital data in the 2012-13 financial year and found falls were responsible for 40 per cent of injuries while car accidents were responsible for 12 per cent.

Taking a tumble might not sound so serious, but it can have some very serious consequences. Just ask a person who’s broken a bone. It’s a major public health problem, not just here, but around the world.

The World Health Organisation says falls are the second leading cause of accidental deaths worldwide. It estimates 424,000 people die around the world from falls every year, and 37 million require medical treatment.

Elderly are the most at risk

The elderly are most likely to have a fall that ends badly. Statistics from the Australian and New Zealand Falls Prevention Society (ANZFPS) paint a pretty bleak picture for over 65s when it comes to falls:

  • 40 per cent of injury-related deaths in this age group are due to falls
  • 30 per cent will experience a fall one or more times a year
  • 10 to 15 per cent will suffer a serious injury after a fall
  • 2 to 6 per cent will suffer a fracture if they fall.

The Federal Government’s aged care website explains why the elderly are most at risk.

“As you grow older, changes in your body such as vision problems, weakening muscles and stiffening joints can increase your chances of falling,” it says.

“Falls can also be a sign of a new health problem, medication side effects or balance problems. Even short-term illnesses such as the flu and other infections or surgery can temporarily increase the risk of falling.”

Cost of falls at least $1 billion per year: report

As well as the physical costs, the medical industry agrees falls are a heavy financial burden on the health system. Although it’s unclear exactly how much, the amount is in the millions.

According to estimates by the AIHW “the cost of acute care due to falls by older people was conservatively estimated at $648.2 million” in 2007-08.

However, in a recent report it said a Department of Health and Ageing study in 2003 provided “the most comprehensive estimate of the national lifetime cost of falls including indirect costs such as costs borne by the family or community”, which exceeded $1 billion per year.

“The study, however, is now a decade old and more recent analyses suggest that $1 billion may be a considerable underestimate,” the report said.

Preventing a fall

There are plenty of online resources available with tips to avoid falling over. Here’s some to check out:

Get help to stay on your feet

If you’ve had a fall, or you feel like you’re at risk of falling Queensland Health says you shouldn’t “dismiss it as part of getting older, lack of concentration or clumsiness”. Here are some health professionals that can help:

  • Doctors: can provide advice about falls prevention, review your medications or refer you to a specialist
  • Physiotherapists: can help with balance and strengthening exercises
  • Occupational therapists: can assess your home for potential hazards and help with modifications to make your home safer.

If you fall and need emergency medical treatment call triple-0 immediately. If you need to see a doctor and your regular GP isn’t available you can book a House Call Doctor online, via the app or by calling 13 55 66.