How dance classes can be of real benefit to older people

We were pleased to read the news at the weekend reporting that the NHS is recommending dance classes for older people to help them to stay fit and healthy and reduce their risk of having a fall.

We certainly need to do something to prevent falls and fractures among the over-65s as they account for over 4 million hospital bed days each year in England alone and are a serious threat to older people’s self-confidence and independence: about 1 in 10 older people who have fallen are afraid to leave their homes in case they fall again.

Only 10% of the older population do as much physical exercise as is recommended by doctors and research with older people has also found that dance classes are much more popular and engaging than traditional falls prevention programmes. For many older people, an approach which is about being active and social can be much more appealing than simply trying to prevent something.

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Home accidents amongst older adults

The guest blog is written by Anna McConnell, a Product and Service Research Associate with Engage Business Network, Age UK. She is working on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Brunel University and Age UK.

Stories regarding the living standards of older people have been hitting the news with uncomfortable regularity. The recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report found that the home care of many older people often fails to reach basic standards. This report, among others, highlights a lack of regard and understanding of the needs of older people in our society, and without addressing these areas it is possible that standards will not rise and the isolation and loneliness that many experience will continue.

Until 2002, The Department of Trade and Industry published nationwide accident data, broken down by kind, severity and age. This data provided a useful insight into the areas of potential danger in the home for many older people. The last report of this kind was the 24th Report of the Home and Leisure Accident Surveillance System which estimated that in 2002, 750 000 people aged over 75 were treated in Accident and Emergency in the UK. Falls were found to be the most common causes for hospital admissions, accounting for over sixty percent of accident related deaths, with a fifth of falls amongst women aged over 50 resulting in hospitalisation for bone fractures. Kitchens and stairs were shown as the locations of the most serious accidents whilst the living and bedrooms were the most common places for home accidents.

The HLASS report represents an extensive accident data collection across eighteen UK hospitals. Unfortunately, there are several issues which might reduce the reliability of the data:

The age of research means many changes since 2002, including:

  • Increasing population of over 65s (under 9 million in 1995 to 10.3 million in 2011)
  • Medical advances
  • An economic downturn, affecting the stock market and private pensions
  • A sharp rise in the cost of living (including fuel, inflation, cost of food)
  • The focus of the report is on cases requiring hospitalisation, so a large number of minor injuries may not be included
  • The age classification of 15 to 64 is too large and will prevent the efficient analysis of injuries amongst younger old people aged between 50 and 64.

Older people are more susceptible to injury than the population as a whole and they tend to be more seriously physically and emotionally affected by accidents. Older people, for example, are more likely to break a bone as a consequence of an accidental injury than the rest of the population, perhaps explaining a common fear of repeated injury amongst many older people.

Interestingly, the emotional consequences of accidents amongst older people can often be more severe than the physical ones, especially for women. Accidents can often reduce a person’s confidence, leading to decreased social interaction and self-esteem, and loss of independence and confidence. In severe cases these symptoms can results in long-term conditions such as depression, which affects women more than men.

The 24th Report is now dated and although it can still provide a partial overview of common accidents amongst older people, new research is needed to deal with current trends. It is unclear why accident data collection and publication stopped in 2002, especially given the unprecedented demographic changes that the UK is experiencing and the financial burden on the NHS.

Collecting this data will have represented a significant cost to the National Health Service but despite the costs, this data is crucial in building a picture of the lives of older people and designing inclusive products that can reduce injuries and dramatically improve quality of life of older people, who often live alone and can feel isolated from the communities they live in. Therefore new quantitative and qualitative research is required in order to fully understand home injuries amongst older people and design effective and non-stigmatising product and service solutions that could reduce the numbers of accidents in the home.

Find out more about our Care in Crisis campaign

Read more about falls awareness