Blog

14 May 24

A Holistic Approach to Falls Prevention with Lavanya Sundararajan

MePACS Team | Health & Wellbeing

When we’re young we often take mobility for granted, but as we age the risk of falls increases, posing significant risks, especially for frail adults.

We spoke with Lavanya Sundararajan, Manager of the Falls Prevention Service at Peninsula Health, to shed light on the importance of preventing falls and addressing frailty head-on through a multifaceted approach.

Keep reading to discover invaluable insights that could enhance your quality of life as you navigate the aging journey.

The journey to Falls Prevention

Lavanya brims with knowledge and brings over a decade of experience in physiotherapy to her role at the Fall Prevention Service. It was while working as a physio at The Royal Melbourne Hospital and Frankston Hospital that she discovered a passion for working with older individuals.

Reflecting on her motivation, Lavanya shares, “Even as a young physio, I liked working with older people. I really feel like they’ve got so much to offer in terms of wisdom and life experience.”

Transitioning from acute care to Falls Prevention allowed her to combine the medical aspects with community work, both of which she thoroughly enjoys.

What is the Falls Prevention Service?

The Falls Prevention Service at Peninsula Health operates as a sub-acute specialist clinic, catering to individuals living in their homes and in the community. Lavanya highlights the collaborative nature of their team, stating, We are a multidisciplinary team. We have clinicians from different backgrounds including occupational therapists, physiotherapists, dietitian, and a geriatrician.”

The service is geared for people aged 16 and above who may have experienced falls or have concerns about falling. From comprehensive home-based assessments to tailored care plans, the focus remains on early intervention and collaboration with clients to achieve their goals.

Lavanya emphasises, “We aim to intervene early if we can, before falls become a big issue.” This proactive approach aligns with their mission to empower individuals and mitigate the risks associated with falls.

The team at the Peninsula Health Falls Prevention Service

Access the Falls Preventions Service

If you have balance issues, recent falls, or concerns about falling, you are eligible for the service. You can get a referral from various sources, including hospitals, doctors, allied health professionals, a carer or even yourself.

While a GP referral is not necessary to see an allied health professional, it is required to consult with a geriatrician. This is to ensure coordination and handover of medical plans to your GP.

Individualised care plan

The process starts with an initial assessment at the client’s home, which typically lasts around two hours, and during which the client’s capabilities and priorities are identified. Older clients with significant risk of falls are invited to the clinic for additional consultations with a doctor and specialised Physiotherapist.

Lavanya clarifies that “usually falls are multifactorial so to address the risk of falling the care approach must be comprehensive.”

The second step of the process is putting together an individually tailored care plan, because every person is different.

The plan is refined and honed with ongoing support and a review conducted over the phone in three to six months. Ultimately, the goal is to empower clients and seamlessly transition their care to their GP or other healthcare professionals.

Research-backed strategies for preventing falls

While there are many interventions for falls prevention, recent research shows that the most effective strategy is physical activity. You should start taking steps to prevent falls as soon as you can, ideally in your 40s and 50s.

“Just by engaging in a physical activity program for 2 to 3 hours a week, you can reduce your risk of falls by about 23%. The program must target balance and strength for 2 to 3 hours in a week, and it has to be of moderate intensity.” says Lavanya.

If you’re not sure where to start, speak to your GP and get a referral to a physio or an exercise physiologist. You can also get in touch with My Aged Care for a physiotherapist referral.

An experienced practitioner such as a physiotherapist or an exercise physiologist can craft a personalised program tailored to your abilities, allowing for gradual progression. Lavanya emphasises that while there are no magic fixes, dedicating time and effort to your program will be beneficial over time.

A head-to-toe approach

According to Lavanya, a comprehensive approach to falls prevention involves considering every aspect of your health, from head to toe.

It’s essential to have regular check-ups with your GP, especially if you experience dizziness or take multiple medications. “Certain medications, such as those for depression or blood pressure, can increase the risk of falls, so it’s crucial to understand their effects,” Lavanya emphasises.

Vision and hearing play significant roles in maintaining balance and spatial awareness, so annual eye check-ups and hearing assessments are vital.

The inner ear balance system, known as the vestibular system, is a key component of balance. Conditions such as Benign Positional Vertigo or Meniere’s disease can sometimes occur due to inner ear infections or concussion, so be mindful of symptoms including dizziness, spinning or imbalance and seek appropriate ear care.

Also, if you wear bifocal or multifocal glasses, consider switching to single-focus glasses when outdoors so you can navigate uneven surfaces and steps more safely.

Bone health is crucial for preventing fractures from falls. Sun exposure for vitamin D and a balanced calcium-rich diet are essential for maintaining strong bones. If you’re not getting enough sun exposure, consult your GP about supplements. Please also advise your GP if you are experiencing unintentional weight loss or reduced appetite.

Addressing bladder and bowel health is also important, as rushing due to leaks or urgency can predispose you to falls.

Proper footwear is essential for stability and balance. Ensure your shoes have flat heels and secure fastenings to support your feet. Lavanya recommends consulting a Podiatrist for foot issues, as they can provide tailored interventions to improve your balance and stability.

Lavanya stresses that “Each person is different. Use a whole- body approach to consider individually what works and what doesn’t work for you.”

Minimising Harm and Seeking Help

While proactive measures can help, Lavanya acknowledges that falls may still occur. In such instances, minimising harm becomes paramount. She emphasises, “One of the things to think about is how are you going to get the help you need. If you’re lying on the floor, how will you get up? Is there someone that can help you?”

Lavanya acknowledges that personal alarms with 24/7 emergency response, such as MePACS, play a vital role in facilitating swift assistance, which helps to minimise the physical and psychological impacts of falls. She further highlights the significance getting help quickly, stating, “A person can lose their independent and mobility in just one day. It takes months to get that confidence back and sometimes people don’t get back to their baseline level of confidence.”

A Final Message

Lavanya emphasises that frailty and falls should not be viewed as normal aspects of aging. Instead, early intervention, personalised care, and a proactive mindset are key to maintaining mobility and wellbeing.

Her final message to people is to start early, “Look after yourself from a younger age and if you notice any changes, address them straight away. By adopting a holistic approach to falls prevention, you can safeguard your independence and quality of life for many years to come.”


Fall Prevention Resources:

Peninsula Health Falls Prevention Service (Mornington Peninsula VIC)

Website: https://www.peninsulahealth.org.au/services/aged-care/centre-home-based-services/falls-prevention/
New referrals: 1300 665 781
Contact: (03) 5976 9011

My Aged Care

Website: https://www.myagedcare.gov.au/
Contact: 1800 200 422

Well for Life : A Healthy Approach to Ageing

Online booklet: well-for-life.pdf (betterhealth.vic.gov.au)

NSW Fall Prevention and Healthy Ageing Network:

Website:https://fallsnetwork.neura.edu.au/

Active & Healthy (NSW):

Website: https://www.activeandhealthy.nsw.gov.au/

Safe Exercise at Home:

Website: https://www.safeexerciseathome.org.au/

Live Up – Exercises for Fall Prevention: 

Website: https://www.liveup.org.au/healthy-ageing-resources/healthy-ageing-articles/exercise-for-falls-prevention


Medical Disclaimer: The content provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

If you or someone you know is at risk of falls, take action today towards a safer tomorrow. Contact MePACS on 1800 685 329.