Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) Professor in Ageing and Health Dawn Skelton was part of an international expert group behind the landmark publication of the World Guidelines for Falls Prevention.

The global initiative aims to provide a framework and expert recommendations to healthcare and other professionals working with older adults on how to identify and assess the risk of falls.

They recommend which interventions, alone or in combination, should be offered to older people as part of a person-centred approach to preventing and managing falls.

The World Guidelines for Falls Prevention and Management for Older Adults: A Global Initiative have been published in Age and Ageing, the scientific journal of the British Geriatrics Society.

The guidelines were developed by the World Falls Task Force, involving 96 multidisciplinary experts from 39 countries across five continents, with representation from 36 scientific and academic societies.

Within 24-hours of the World Falls Guidelines being launched on social media, 2.75 million people had viewed them on Twitter.

Professor Skelton co-led the Working Group on Exercise for the guidelines. She is joint lead of the Ageing Well Research Group in the University’s Research Centre for Health (ReaCH) which makes a direct and significant contribution to Sustainable Development Goal 3 – good health and wellbeing – issued by the United Nations in 2015 as a blueprint for peace and prosperity across the planet.

She said: “These guidelines will have a major impact on falls services delivery across the world.

“I am one of six experts in the UK that updated the evidence and managed the delphi process to reach consensus on this important issue. My involvement with the UKs National Falls Prevention Coordination Group and seeing the fantastic implementation of work within NHS Lanarkshire’s Falls Prevention Strategy has helped provide practice and implementation guidance alongside the recommendations.

“It has been a three-year mission and until now implementation has been patchy around the world and no country has had in-depth guidelines for falls.”

Falls become increasingly common as we get older. People aged 65 and over have a 30% chance of falling at least once a year and this increases to a 50% chance of falling at least once a year in those aged over 80. Older people receiving care at home or living in residential settings are even more likely to fall and injure themselves.

Professor Skelton explained: “Although some falls may appear minor, the human impact of falling can be devastating for older people from a psychological and physical perspective. Falls can result in loss of confidence, avoidance of activity, loss of independence, social isolation and depression, even without injury. Yet falls can be prevented, with exercise having the strongest evidence base. For example, the FaME (Falls Management Exercise) programme, which formed a REF impact case study for GCU, has shown a reduction in falls, increase in ability to get up from the floor and habitual physical activity, all of which can significantly improve a person’s quality of life.

“The Global Burden of Disease study reported nearly 17 million years of life lost from falls in 2017. The number of falls and related injuries is likely to increase, partly as the global population of older adults grows, but also because of the rising prevalence of multimorbidity and frailty. It is therefore highly significant that falls experts from across the globe have come together to agree and document guidelines for healthcare professionals to use in the prevention and management of falls.”

“Expertise and insights from falls specialists, scientific and academic societies, and patient and carer feedback have contributed to an extensive three-year process, culminating in the publication of these peer-reviewed guidelines. The worldwide multidisciplinary nature of this group of experts and stakeholders makes them truly ground-breaking and relevant for a global healthcare audience.”

Professor Nathalie van der Velde, of Amsterdam University Medical Centres and Co-principal Author of the World Falls Guidelines, said: “The World Falls Guideline Task Force was created following discussions in 2019 to reflect new evidence in falls prevention and management and respond to current service challenges.

“Our expert group conducted research that identified gaps in and inconsistencies between the existing guidelines developed nationally and by specialist international bodies. This concluded that a new set of clinical practice guidelines should be developed to address these issues.

“We are proud to have created robust guidelines that will be internationally applicable and will help healthcare professionals around the world to prevent and manage falls in their older patients.”

Professor Rowan Harwood, Editor of Age and Ageing Journal, commented: “We are delighted to publish the ‘World Guidelines for Falls Prevention and Management for Older Adults’ in the British Geriatrics Society’s academic journal, Age and Ageing.

“Publishing such guidelines for the benefit of clinicians worldwide in a prestigious, peer-reviewed journal brings them to the attention of a global audience, informing future policy, practice and commissioning decisions.  Congratulations to the 96 contributing experts for this landmark publication.”