Are senior citizens falling at home or outside? If they are falling outside, what are the factors that cause them to fall? And if they are falling at home, one should be concerned about the home environment.

Questions pertaining to the elderly and falls are issues that interest Associate Professor Dr Tan Maw Pin of the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya. She is also consultant geriatician with Universiti Malaya Medical Centre.

“By asking specific questions, we’re able to tell how common falls are and where seniors are falling. If they are falling outside, is it because the pavements are uneven?” asked Dr Tan.

Dr Tan, co-founder of the Malaysian Elders Longitudinal Research (MELoR), said the study would identify high-risk areas associated with falls in the cities.

Leong Yu Fong holds onto the railing when she goes up and down the stairs to prevent slipping and falling.

Leong Yu Fong holds onto the railing when she goes up and down the stairs to prevent slipping and falling.

Or are they falling because their vision is not good? Or is it a blood pressure problem or medication problem? These are issues affecting the elderly that will be looked into.

If the elderly falls at home, what kind of dangers lurk in Malaysian households?

“It is common to find loose mats outside our bathrooms and our toilets are very wet,” Dr Tan pointed out. A lot of people compromise on furniture and houses tend to be quite cluttered with old newspapers.

These factors can lead to falls at home for the elderly.

“When we listen to all these, we can educate our population on how to prevent falls,” Dr Tan said.

It is common to find loose mats outside our bathrooms and our toilets are very wet. We can educate our population on how to prevent falls. - Dr Tan Maw Pin

It is common to find loose mats outside our bathrooms and our toilets are very wet. We can educate our population on how to prevent falls, says Dr Tan Maw Pin.

As a result, the authorities can institute policies such as exercise programmes for the people and age-friendly cities to reduce falls in the elderly.

Falls can be a big problem because the Malaysian population is ageing rapidly.

According to Dr Tan, by 2021, 10% of our population will be over the age of 65. But it’s those in the age 75 and above category whose numbers are increasing the fastest. And this group is most vulnerable to falls.

Unless we address this problem, it is going to have a huge social and economic impact on our country, said Dr Tan.

For instance, if an elderly person falls and fractures her hip, a hip operation costs about RM16,000 depending on the type of surgery and where it is performed. Many cannot afford this. And following the hip fracture, the elderly patient would require nursing home care. This will add to their financial burden.

Someone in the family has to be available to look after the patient because the chances of recovering full independence after a hip fracture is quite small, Dr Tan pointed out.

After such a fall, the patient usually needs some help; many of them would not be able to walk again. Their lifespan is shortened after a hip fracture.

Falls in seniors can be very costly. If we are able to prevent hip fractures, we will be able to lessen their social economic impact on the elderly.