fall risk

  1. Exercise can prevent falls in seniors

    Get on your feet to avoid falling down

    Want to hear some good excuses? Ask people why they don't exercise. Trust me, I've heard them all -- including the old standby, "I'm afraid I might hurt myself."

    Don't feel bad if you've used that one yourself. You're not alone -- but you're wrong.

    Exercise doesn't have to be difficult or dangerous, and it certainly doesn't have to be painful. And along with helping to keep you fit, trim and healthy, a little light movement throughout the week can actually help prevent the very injuries seniors fear most.

    If you're up there in years, you know the ones I'm talking about. The ones you can't predict -- the ones you get when you fall.

    Every year, a third of all seniors fall, leading to 2 million hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths in the United States alone. But those numbers only tell part of the story -- because even if you survive a fall, life might never be the same again.

    You could suffer permanent and crippling injury -- and that could lead to a loss of independence and even institutionalization.

    Bye-bye home sweet home... hello, nursing home.

    No one wants that -- and if you can get a little movement a few times a week, you can avoid it. One new look at data from 259 studies finds that exercises that combine both strength and balance training can reduce the number of falls by 30 percent and the number of people who fall by 20 percent

    You can do these exercises on your own or in a group, but make sure you do them -- they're that important.

    The study also looked at vitamin D supplements and didn't find a benefit, but we know that low D levels lead to poor balance and weak muscle -- and other studies have found that D supplements can actually slash the risk of a fall.

    There's so much evidence for this that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force even recommended D supplements to seniors recently for that very purpose.

    Along with exercise, talk to your doctor about drugs you might not need. Many of them can leave you wobbly and unsteady, and one study in the new analysis finds that seniors who quit psychiatric drugs can reduce their fall risk by two-thirds.

    Finally, don't be shy about making some changes around the home. If you're not as spry as you used to be, have handrails put along steps and in the bathroom, and get some help rearranging the furniture to suit your needs.

    Your lifestyle -- and your life -- are both on the line.

  2. Fears can lead to falls

    There's nothing worse than a self-fulfilling prophecy--and if you worry about falling, there's a good chance you might fulfill that prophecy.

    A new study finds that seniors who fear falling the most have a higher risk of actually falling, even if they're otherwise unlikely to take a spill. In fact, 40 percent of seniors who have a low actual risk of falling but a high level of fear actually end up taking a tumble.

    It's as if fear itself is trying to give you an unfriendly push.

    Researchers divided 500 people between the ages of 70 and 90 years old into four groups based on their perceptions of their risk and their actual risk.

    Most people--69 percent--knew exactly where they stood. They had a low risk of falling and knew it... or a higher risk and also knew it.

    But the remaining 31 percent had a bit of a perception gap. Researchers divided them into two groups: "anxious" and "stoic."

    The anxious seniors had a low physiological risk of falling, but strong fears that they could fall--and those fears came true, because researchers say these seniors fell more often than the should have, statistically speaking.

    These patients were also more likely to show symptoms of depression and harbor irrational fears, according to the study in BMJ. They had lower qualities of life, less executive function, and did worse on stability tests than those who had a better understanding of their risks.

    The stoics, on the other hand, didn't think they had a high risk of falling--but, physiologically speaking, they probably should have been more concerned about their risk.

    "Denial" might have been a better word than "stoic."

    But denial isn't always a bad thing--because the study found that these seniors had a better quality of life, higher levels of strength, better stability, a lower risk of depression and fewer irrational fears than those who had a more accurate perception of their fall risk.

    On the other hand, all that denial didn't stop these patients from falling when all was said and done--so maybe that stoicism should have been paired with just a touch of rational fear, or at least awareness.

    The researchers say this study shows that docs shouldn't just consider their patients' risk of falling... but their perception of that risk. After all, seniors who fall for any reason have a higher risk of hospitalization, institutionalization and even death.

    So it turns out Franklin D. Roosevelt had it exactly right –-because fear itself is, in fact, something to fear.

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