LEADING scientists in the North East have discovered a link between liver disease and the number of falls in the elderly, which they believe could save the NHS millions of pounds.
The findings by experts at Newcastle University show patients suffering from Primary Biliary Cirrhosis (PBC) are more than twice as likely to fall as non sufferers.
The study – which is published in the current edition of the Quarterly Journal of Medicine – looked at patients suffering from PBC.
Of those, 72% had suffered at least one fall; 55% had a fall in the past year and 22% were regular fallers. In each case this was more than double the rate for people who do not have the condition.
It is believed abnormalities in blood pressure control, poor balance and muscle weakness are causing the problems.
And experts say addressing postural dizziness, poor balance and lower limb weakness could reduce falls, injuries and deaths.
They believe a doctor, physiotherapist and occupational therapist should work together with one patient to address the issue of falls to help curb the problem.
Dr James Frith, clinical research associate who led the study, said: “Falls cause serious injuries to thousands of people every year.
“Now we have found this link we may be able to offer treatments to patients who are high risk and hopefully stop some of these falls from happening in the first place. A fall can cause huge emotional issues as well as the physical problems. People lose their confidence and independence after they fall.
“It appears that people with PBC are falling as a result of abnormal regulation of their blood pressure. There is a strong link between PBC and blood pressure regulation. In addition falls also appear to be related to abnormal gait and balance, which is probably a result of abnormalities in the system which controls blood pressure. A recent piece of research suggested that many older women would prefer to die than suffer a broken hip, which would leave them feeling vulnerable and stop them living their life.”
Every year the NHS spends £1bn treating injuries from falls – about £7.8m of that connected to PBC. This finding could potentially save money for the National Health Service.
Many of those who had fallen had suffered serious injuries, including fractures, and one in five of the PBC fallers had to be admitted to hospital as a result of their fall, compared with none from the study control group who had to be admitted.