Fall prevention tool being tested at Christchurch rest home

Falls are the most common cause of injury in Aotearoa, accounting for 39 percent of all ACC claims.

Now a new tool aimed at preventing them has been tested at a Christchurch rest home.

Resident Carol Thomson's had some falls in the past.

"One was when my foot caught on the ramp when I was stepping down into the conservatory and of course, I went 'whoosh' and that was one of the worst ones because it was so painful," she said.

Now a group of engineering graduates have had a clever idea on how to prevent that – their invention tentatively dubbed "the couch pole".

Jackson Crawford says they found elderly people were struggling to get up and down and they wanted to help ease the process.

"If it's a lower chair or if the armrests aren't as solid on it or if it's in the middle of the couch, there's nothing to hold onto," he said.

You try and push off the cushions and they just sag underneath and sometimes you can't stand up so the idea is that this will slide underneath the couch and then you can have something to grab onto and help you stand up."

Fellow graduate Grace May says they came to the rest home last year to do interviews.

"Everyone we've talked to so far has really enjoyed it. They like the stability and just the knowing it's there gives them a lot of confidence." she said.

They're working for Christchurch-based orthopaedics company ENZTEC.

"Over the last seven years, I've been doing research with the University of Canterbury looking at how we can make a difference for patients… so how do we stop our elderly having falls and costing them independence and costing the country a whole lot in terms of treating and rehab," said chief executive Iaian McMillan.

ACC says fall-related injuries have cost $8.6 billion over the past six years.

Last year alone, over 170,000 claims relating to falls came from those over 65.

ACC injury prevention leader James Whitaker says the risk of falls increases with age.

"One in three New Zealanders aged 65 or older experience a fall-related injury each year and when you hit 80 it in can be one in two New Zealanders," he said.

McMillan says when people fall, it can be life-altering.

"It can basically be the loss of independence… Ultimately, yes, some patients when they fall, it can be catastrophic for them and their families in terms of the rest of their life expectancy," he said.

There are a number of solutions, with ACC saying it’s doing a lot of work in this space.

The organisation’s launching a balance app called Nymbl on April 3.

It’s designed to help seniors stay steady on their feet using dual tasking, combining simple body movements with easy brain games, like trivia, to challenge both the brain and body.

"By investing 10 minutes a day, a few times a week, in the comfort of your own home, you can improve your balance and maintain your independence and confidence," said Whitaker.

But gear like the "couch pole" is also a welcome addition to the toolbox.

Crawford says their work going forward is to scale up the design.

"Going to focus on the little things like that making the up and down adjustment easier, making sure that nothing out the front is a trip hazard, making sure we can pack it into a box and sell it to people," he said.

Rest home resident Shirley Hol knows it'll be valuable.

"I can see the purpose of it and I think it's good," she said.

Thomson agrees.

"If you've fallen once, you don't want to fall again. If you've fallen five or six times, you never want to fall again seriously," she said.


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