A diverse range of health professionals are involved in falls prevention. Each health professional can help to reduce the risk of falls in a different way. It is important to know who can assist you in preventing falls. Provided below is a description of health professional disciplines that you may be interested in contacting or referring to in order to reduce falls risk in older adults living in the community. For more information, The Department of Health WA also provides information on what different health professionals can do to prevent falls.
Falls specialists are physiotherapists or occupational therapists who can assist older adults to assess and reduce their risk of falls. A falls specialist can visit a client in their own home to conduct a detailed assessment. This assessment can determine why the client has fallen previously and/or identify risk factors that may contribute to future falls. Falls specialists accept referrals from GP's and health providers in the public and private health systems across all clinical areas and settings.
Exercise physiologists can provide exercises to reduce an individual's falls risk and manage chronic diseases and injuries (such as those resulting from a fall). For more information about exercise programs click here. If you would like more information about the role of an exercise physiologist please refer to Exercise & Sports Science Australia and Sports Medicine Australia.
Physiotherapists work with their clients to overcome musculoskeletal or movement issues and disorders. Physiotherapists can prescribe exercises to improve balance, flexibility and strength; all of which can reduce an individual's risk of falling. The Australian Physiotherapy Association maintains a current database of physiotherapists.
Occupational therapists enable people to participate in activities of everyday life. An occupational therapist can assess their client’s home environment for potential hazards, make modifications to make their home safer, and develop exercise programs. Occupational Therapy Australia is the national professional association representing occupational therapy in Australia, which can help you to find a private practice OT.
General Practitioners (GP's) play a key role in the prevention of falls. They are able to assess their patients and assist them in managing their health by providing information and advice about their medicines, diet, exercise, and management of chronic health conditions. GP's are often the first point of contact that many older adults have with a health professional in regards to preventing falls and are therefore in an excellent position to refer patients to other health professionals who can provide more specific falls prevention information and services. If you are unsure of the services available in your local area, the National Health Services Directory can assist you in finding a range of healthcare services.
Pharmacists play an important role in preventing falls, particularly among older adults who regularly visit the pharmacy. Pharmacists can perform reviews of medicines to ensure that they are not causing adverse effects that increase falls risk. Pharmacists can also observe older adults for declines in physical or behavioural traits including gait and personality. Information on the pharmaceutical industry is available from the National Prescribing Service, The Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.
Dietitians help their clients to understand the relationship between their diet and their overall health and wellbeing. A poor diet can cause dizziness, weakness, light headedness and reduced concentration, all of which can lead to a fall. Dietitians can advise older adults on healthy food choices and provide simple and budget friendly meal ideas. Dieticians recommend foods to ensure older adults meet their daily energy requirements and consume the vitamins and minerals that are essential to good health in later life. If you have any queries regarding how dietitians can help or would like to contact a dietician in your area, visit the Dietician Association of Australia website.
As people age, physical changes in their eyes can affect their eyesight and balance. Optometrists are eye specialists who can assess vision and the presence of eye diseases and prescribe lenses and contact lenses. To locate your nearest optometrist, the Optometrists Association of Australia maintains a database of optometrists. Further information on how optometrists can help to prevent falls can be found at Optometry Australia and the Lions Eye Institute. Ophthalmologists are medical eye specialists trained to examine, diagnose, treat and manage eye diseases and disorders.
Podiatrists work with individuals to prevent, diagnose and treat medical conditions associated with the feet and lower limbs. Podiatrists can help their clients to improve their circulation and decrease swelling in their feet, and provide advice on suitable footwear. Further information on how podiatrists can help to prevent falls, as well as a database to find your local podiatrist, can be found at the Australasian Podiatry Council .
Other professions and services
Local Governments are integral channels for communicating information to community members and maintaining safe environments. Individuals working within local governments can conduct a number of activities to reduce their resident's risk of falls, including; conducting falls prevention awareness-raising activities, providing access to affordable community-based exercise classes, promoting local home modification services and providing public areas that encourage safe activity and healthy ageing. For more information about what local governments can do to reduce your falls-risk contact Injury Matters.
Aboriginal health workers play an important role in improving access to, and delivery of, holistic health care services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They provide a vital link between Aboriginal communities and health care services by helping to coordinate and provide health care services including falls prevention. The following websites are great sources of information on health services available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:
Community organisations and aged care services play a vital role in preventing falls. These organisations and services assist with a range of activities, including the overall maintenance of health and wellbeing in older adults.
Aged Care Assessment Teams (ACAT) can receive referrals from health professionals, older adults, and friends and family members of older adults. The team assesses the individual's needs and their ability to perform activities of daily living, including involvement in the community. They then determine which services the individual may be eligible to receive, and what level of care package is appropriate for them. Services include assistance with personal care, household tasks, maintaining a nutritious diet, and social activities. With approximately 50% of falls occurring in and around the home, ensuring that older people are practicing safe behaviours at home is very important. The My Aged Care website provides helpful information on the ACAT assessment process. You can use the My Aged Care service finder to find services in your area.
Home care packages are now delivered on a Consumer Directed Care (CDC) basis. This means that older people (and their families and carers) have more control and flexibility over what services they receive. The older person can choose who delivers their services, and when, where, and how they are delivered. Service providers can help to develop a care package which is suited to the needs of the individual. The My Aged Care website is a useful source of information on home care packages.
There are also a number of community service organisations that can assist in maintaining the health and wellbeing of older adults:
There are various education and research institutes that teach or conduct research on falls prevention. If you are interested in furthering your study in falls prevention or contacting students or academics who specialise in falls prevention, the following links may be useful:
- The University of Notre Dame Fremantle - Falls prevention research network
- Curtin University
- Monash University
- The George Institute for Global Health Australia
- National Ageing Research Institute
- The University of Queensland Australia
- Neuroscience Research Australia - Falls, balance and injury research centre
Health promotion officers plan and coordinate health promotion programs for various groups within the community, including groups of older adults. If you are interested in contacting your local health promotion officer or require information about the services they provide, the following websites may be helpful:
Nurses play an important role in preventing falls. They are in a position to facilitate a team-based approach to falls prevention as they often work closely with other health professionals such as GP's and allied health professionals. Nurses can also recognise changes that occur in their patients that indicate that they are at an increased risk of falls. The Practice Nurses Association provide useful educational opportunities for practice nurses.