For people over 65, falling can be a common yet potentially life-threatening concern, and it's one of the leading causes of injuries in the elderly. Researchers have released another study hoping to better target the most effective preventative care for the older generation. The study found that elderly people who take part in ‘fall prevention’ exercise programs had lower risks in both falling and breaking bones.
“Falls are recognized as a serious and common medical problem experienced by older adults, but it’s also widely known that falls are preventable, and that exercise is an efficient way to prevent them,” Fabienne El-Khoury, lead author of the study, told Reuters Health. El-Khoury added that there was not any clear evidence that exercise programs could “also reduce severe or more moderate injuries caused by falls, even though injuries due to falls have serious medical, psychological and economic consequences.”
The researchers reviewed over 4,000 participants with an average age of 77, the majority being women. They formed several categories of falls: all injurious falls, falls resulting in medical care, severe injurious falls, and falls resulting in fractures; exercise "had a significant effect in all categories," the authors wrote. They researchers found that people who exercised were 37 percent less likely to be hurt when they fell in comparison to those who did not exercise. Those in the exercise group were also 61 percent less likely to break bones during falls, as well as 43 percent less likely to be hospitalized after a fall.
Exercise has previously been cited, along with vitamin D and physical therapy, as potential ways to prevent falls in older people. Other research has suggested wearing a hip protector, halting the use of some medication, and taking protein supplements, though the benefits of these are still unclear.
Researchers are still unsure whether fixed workout regiments are more effective than more casual exercise, such as gardening and walking. But one thing is certain: falls are a common and potentially serious risk for older people, and should be treated as such, as the problem is "often overlooked because doctors may not be aware of their patients’ fall risk,” Dr. Albert Siu, vice vo-chair of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), told Reuters. The USPSTF recommends early intervention for people age 65 and older with a high risk of falls, by focusing primarily on physical therapy and increasing vitamin D intake.
“I think the evidence continues to grow in terms of the benefit of physical activity,” Yvonne Michael, an associate professor at the Drexel University School of Public Health, told Reuters.