Older Americans should take steps to prevent falls

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Nearly a third of Americans over age 65 fall each year, resulting in almost 20,000 deaths, over two million emergency room visits, and medical costs exceeding $28 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And, as we ve discussed before, the loss of mobility following such falls can lead to a significant decline in an older person s overall health. So we were pleased to read about a new study showing that there are specific measures a person can take to prevent such falls.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand, reviewed 159 earlier studies of fall prevention involving more than 79,000 seniors. Most of these studies compared a fall prevention program with no intervention or with an intervention that was not expected to reduce falls. It turned out that the fall prevention programs reduced the number of falls by an average of 30 percent, the researchers reported in The Cochrane Library this week.

So what constitutes an effective fall prevention program? Exercise consisting of multiple components, such as strength and balance training, is most important, the researchers found. In addition to the apparent role that strength and balance play in preventing falls, the researchers also found evidence that cataract surgery and pacemakers for relevant patients reduced falls.

Furthermore, along with data the CDC released on the issue earlier in the year, the Center also listed a number of precautions people can take in their own households. These include getting rid of or taping down small rugs, improving lighting, installing grab bars in the bathroom, and using non-slip mats in the bathtub topped the list.

In the view of ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, these proactive measures are imperative. Seniors should be advised that falls are a serious threat and be informed of ways to prevent them, she says.