Background: It is common for older patients to present to accident and emergency (AE) departments after a fall. Management should include assessment and treatment of the injuries and assessment and correction of underlying risk factors in order to prevent recurrent falls. Objectives: To determine management of older patients presenting after a fall to the AE department of Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. Method: Hospital records were reviewed for a random sample of 100 patients aged 65 years and older presenting to the AE department after a fall, between December 2001 and May 2002. Results: The mean age of the sample was 78.6 years (range 65 - 98 years); 72% of subjects were female. History of a previous fall, and history of drug or alcohol intake, were recorded in less than 20% of cases. Blood pressure and pulse rate were recorded in approximately 90% of cases, and pulse rhythm and postural blood pressure in 2%. Examination of the musculoskeletal system was done in 86% of cases and that of other systems in less than 50%; cognitive assessment was conducted in less than 30%. Radiological investigations were performed in 89% of cases, glucose and haemoglobin in 32%, renal profile and electrocardiogram in 5%, and urinalysis, in 4%. Three-quarters of the patients were referred for further management: 52% to orthopaedic surgery, 12% to other surgical subspecialties, 6% to the general medical department, and 6% to other hospitals and clinics. No referrals were made to geriatric medicine, physiotherapy or occupational therapy. Conclusions. In managing elderly patients after a fall, the AE department focused on injuries sustained. Little effort was made to establish and manage risk factors, hence to prevent recurrent falls. Guidelines are needed for the management of such patients in AE departments.
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