Unexpected falls into water take tragic toll on older Aussies

Falls into water prove deadly for older Australians

Wellbeing
AVOID A DEADLY TUMBLE: Unexpected falls into water are a particular drowning risk for older Australians. Photo: Shutterstock.

AVOID A DEADLY TUMBLE: Unexpected falls into water are a particular drowning risk for older Australians. Photo: Shutterstock.

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Many drowning deaths of older people occur at or near home, says Royal Life Saving Society - Australia.

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Falls, medications, medical conditions and use of mobility aids are all high risks for older people when it comes to drowning.

Royal Life Saving Society - Australia research shows one fifth of drowning deaths of older people were attributable to an unexpected fall into water and in most cases these occurred at, or close, to home.

The water safety and education peak body looked at 10 years of data, analysing the contributing factors in almost 600 drowning deaths in those aged 65 years and over.

The largest number of deaths occurred in NSW (47 per cent), followed by Queensland (22 per cent).

Medication was known to be present in 60 per cent of deaths and blood alcohol concentration was greater than or equal to 0.05 per cent in 19 per cent of deaths.

Royal Life Saving Principal Research and Policy Officer Alison Mahony said the data highlighted the need for older Australians to be aware of water bodies around them at all times, rather than just when they planned to go swimming or boating.

"Of the 116 deaths where people fell into water, around a third drowned in a swimming pool, and a further third drowned in a river or creek," Ms Mahony said.

"Pre-existing medical conditions, medication use, impaired mobility and use of mobility aids, history of falls and environmental hazards all contributed to falls.

"In almost a quarter of cases, the person who drowned was known to have impaired mobility. In some cases, this presented as episodes of dizziness or light-headedness."

"A pre-existing medical condition was known to be present in 89 per cent of drowning deaths, most commonly cardiovascular disease (72 per cent) and dementia (22 per cent)."

In 19 per cent of cases an environmental hazard was noted as being present. These included steep or slippery surfaces near water, poor lighting resulting in low visibility, and obstacles which would have posed a trip hazard.

Royal Life Saving recommends older people attend regular medical check-ups with their doctor and take any prescribed medication as directed. Specific advice relevant to an individual's lifestyle can be obtained from a doctor or pharmacist.

In almost a quarter of cases, the person who drowned was known to have impaired mobility. In some cases, this presented as episodes of dizziness or light-headedness. A pre-existing medical condition was known to be present in 89 per cent of drowning deaths, most commonly cardiovascular disease (72 per cent) and dementia (22 per cent). - Alison Mahony, Royal Life Saving Society - Australia

Physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of falls and fall-related injuries in older people and Royal Life Saving promotes aquatic facilities as safe venues for physical activity and rehabilitation in a controlled environment.

Recreation and exercise at aquatic facilities can provide physical, mental and emotional health benefits, while also ensuring a safer environment for older people who are seeking low-impact activity.

According to Royal Life Saving the risk of falls into water among older people can be reduced by:

  • Attending regular medical check-ups with a doctor
  • Taking any prescribed medicine as directed
  • Asking a doctor or pharmacist any specific questions related to health and lifestyle
  • Participating in regular exercise to reduce the risk of falls
  • Visiting the local aquatic centre for low impact activity in a controlled environment
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