Fear of falling is real. Every 11 seconds an older adult is seen in the emergency room for a fall and every 19 seconds one dies from that fall. One in four Americans over 65 will fall yearly. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury in older adults (1). The fear of falling concerns most seniors and adults at some point in life. This risk is real as we age and with it comes other worries about a broken hip, pain, immobility, the need for surgery, and potential for other complications.
There are many factors that play into the risk. The connection between mind and body is essential and, like a muscle, can be made stronger or weaker depending on activity level and exercise. Working to strengthen this connection will reduce your fall risk and help maintain an active life. Your ability to balance on one leg is a proven assessment of your stability and fall risk.
Keeping your joints functional, mobile, and active will also reduce the fall risk. For many joint pain limits the ability to stay active. I see patients daily with joint pain, and work with my patients to decrease pain and improve lifestyle.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of falling and getting hurt.
Work on balance to prevent falls
The first step to improve your muscles, joints and mind-body connection is exercise. Combined this makes up your ‘balance’. I send a lot of patients to physical therapy for this. They are the experts at training and rehabilitation specifically for this reason.
Maintain strength an flexibility to prevent falls
The next step is to work on strength and flexibility. Again, therapy is the direction for most people. They’ve got this down. Don’t underestimate the importance of daily activity, flexibility and strengthening.
Increase bone density to prevent falls
Third, maintain your bone density. A painless test is used to evaluate your bone density. Everyone looses bone density as we age, men and women, and activity along with calcium supplements will help slow this progress. The World Health Organization recommends at least 500mg of calcium daily along with vitamin D for most people. They also note, however, that feature risk is higher in developed countries where calcium is readily available over less developed countries (5). This likely has to do with overall activity level. Maintaining at least 1 hour of weight bearing activity daily is recommended. We can talk more about this in another blog post.
Treat arthritis to prevent falls
The final step is to treat arthritis when needed to maintain that activity level. Research has evaluated the effect of treating osteoarthritis, or wear-and-tear knee pain, and its connection to fall risk. Patients treated with knee replacement or resurfacing surgery were shown to have significantly better ability to balance and in turn reduce their risk for a fall.
In my office we frequently evaluate patients for balance, knee and hip pain, and talk about ways to keep you active and reduce your risk for falls. There are many factors to consider beyond those shown here. Ask me questions to learn more.
- The National Council on Aging. www.ncoa.org.
- Moutzouri M et al.: The effect of total knee arthroplasty on patients’ balance and incidence of falls. A systematic review. Knee Surg Sport Trauma 25:3439-3451, 2017.
- Hai-bi S et al.: The effect of primary total knee arthroplasty on the incidence of falls and balance-related functions in patients with osteoarthritis, Nature 29Nov2017.
- Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic disease. WHO. 2002.