Elderly woman falling over

Older people

How can pharmacists help to prevent falls?

Having a fall can have devastating and far reaching consequences. It can affect a person, not only in their physical wellbeing, but their mental wellbeing as well. Falls can be a cause of distress, pain, injury, loss of confidence, loss of independence and mortality.

A fall is defined as an event which results in a person coming to rest inadvertently on the ground or floor or other lower level. Falls are a major public health issue and can happen to anyone, although they are a common problem for older people. Thirty percent of people older than 65 and fifty percent of people older than 80 fall at least once a year. Falls are the most common cause of death from injury in the over 65s and cost the NHS over £2bn a year and over 4 million bed days.

But a fall does not have to be inevitable, and measures can be taken to help prevent a fall from occurring. Reducing falls and fractures is important to maintaining health, wellbeing and independence. Many falls are the result of a combination of multiple risk factors.

Medicines optimisation is key to helping identify risk factors for falls and an opportunity to help prevent a fall from occurring. The NHS England Medicines Value Programme highlights the need for health care professionals to support people to take their medicines as intended, with appropriate medicines reviews, so that they get the health outcomes they want. 

Medicines optimisation is key to helping identify risk factors for falls and an opportunity to help prevent a fall from occurring.

A recent CPPE national learning campaign, Medicines, people and valuer an in Autumn 2018. Each of the programme’s four weekly elearning challenges covered a different topic to see how pharmacy could support the delivery of the Medicines Value Programme, prevent medicines waste, prevent falls and support antimicrobial stewardship – all key nationally important topics.

The falls prevention challenge is designed to link to a CPPE national Falls Prevention workshop which has an expert speaker on the subject to support pharmacists to help their patients and develop their knowledge and skills to manage and optimise care for patients. 

People are at the centre of our practice regardless of which part of the healthcare system we work in. Community pharmacist teams have the knowledge and skills to undertake an holistic approach and are well placed to provide information about managing the risk of falls and contribute to the optimisation of medicines which have side effects with high, moderate and lower risk (in combination) of falls. In addition, we can increase awareness of falls and promote prevention measures to reduce their incidence, signpost people for additional support when it impacts on their life, and notice any changes to a patient’s wellbeing.

By helping to identify and support people at risk of falls and those that have had a fall, pharmacy professionals can improve medicines use while decreasing the risks and effects of a fall on the person and to the healthcare system. For example, reducing the number of falls will help to reduce the need to access emergency care. This helps us work towards the aim of the Five Year Forward View of reducing avoidable demand for emergency care and meet demand more appropriately.

Further reading

NICE clinical guideline 161. Falls in older people: assessing risk and prevention

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