HKR researcher hopes to help prevent the risk of falls for seniors

According to Statistic Canada, 60 per cent of injuries in people over 65 are related to falls. In fact, the same report states that between 2000 and 2002, 4110 Canadian deaths directly related to falls occurred in those over 65. Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Canadian Institute for Health Information confirms that fall related hospitalizations due to hip fractures occur at a rate of 51 per cent, well above the national average of 39 per cent.

However, new funding from the Newfoundland and Labrador Healthy Aging Research Program may help reduce those statistics, at least in this province. Dr. Jeanette Byrne is receiving $16,620 for her study, Fall Prevention in Seniors in the Greater St. John's Area: A Qualitative and Quantitative Examination of a Fall Prevention Program. With Dr. Michelle Ploughman from the Faculty of Medicine, she'll identify the beliefs and experiences of seniors when it comes to fall risk and fall prevention, and examine whether a 10-week exercise and education program will result in reduction in fall risk and subsequent fall incidence compared to education alone.

"Currently there are very few fall prevention initiatives in our province that target community dwelling seniors," explained Dr. Byrne. "Hospitals and long-term care facilities in the province have targeted programs aimed at reducing fall risk, however healthy, active, community dwelling seniors are also at substantial risk for falls. Once falls occur in this population, health problems, loss of independence and even death can occur. This research will help address this lack of attention played to fall prevention in the community and in the long term we hope it will lead to more permanent establishment of such programs throughout the province."

Drs. Byrne and Ploughman will work with two groups of 25 healthy, community dwelling seniors aged 65 – 85 years. Both groups will receive education sessions related to fall risk/prevention and one group will also take part in a 10-week exercise program. The researchers plan to share the results with the NLCAHR Affinity Group on Ageing and NL Injury Prevention Coalition, as well as with the Department of Health and health authorities.

The new Newfoundland and Labrador Healthy Aging Research Program funding is supporting four research projects in total at Memorial as well as the work of three graduate students. The provincial government awarded approximately $186,000 in the latest round of funding to facilitate a stronger focus on research on aging and seniors. The program is administered by the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research and was established to address the priority directions of the Provincial Government's Provincial Healthy Aging Policy Framework.