By: Kevin Rothwell-Vernon Matters
VERNON — New University of British Columbia research is confirming a strong link between exercise and preventing falls.
Seniors falling often results in hospitalization and in some cases a rapid decline in overall health and quality of life.
About one-third of adults aged 65 years and older experience at least one fall annually with half of these people falling more than once a year.
In fact, falls in older adults are the third leading cause of chronic disability. About 95 per cent of hip fractures are associated with a fall, and 10 to 15 per cent of emergency department visits for those aged 65 years and older—most often hip, wrist or spine—are related to a fall.
Non-fatal fall injuries are associated with decreased functional independence, such as the ability to carry out daily activities, lower quality of life, decreased mobility and increased risk of a future fall-related injury.
Dr. Jennifer Davis, along with UBCO researchers, spends much of her time looking for ways to keep our older adult population healthy. An assistant professor in the Faculty of Management, her goal is to improve the quality of life of older Canadians through health-economic evaluations and health-outcomes research.
Much of her work looks at fall prevention and keeping older adults functioning independently and the importance of healthy aging as well as the health and cost-implications of falls to older adults.
Collective evidence suggests exercise can reduce fall rates in older adults by 21 per cent. When exercise interventions include balance exercises for at least three hours per week, there is an even greater reduction in the rate of falls.
A home-based exercise program, the Otago Exercise Program, has demonstrated a 36 per cent reduction in the rate of falls among those who have already experienced a fall and a similar 40 per cent reduction in the rate of falls for first-time fallers. Adherence to exercise is often 50 per cent or lower.
“Specifically, three proven cost-saving strategies for falls include: 1) a multi-level program targeted those with higher risk factors for falling was cost saving; 2) the Otago Exercise Program was cost-saving when delivered to people aged over 80 years; and 3) a home safety program was cost-saving for those recently discharged from hospital, if delivered to older adults who sustained a previous fall,” Davis outlined.
Here are a few important healthy aging tips to keep in mind.
Exercise: Regular exercise helps maintain strength and balance. A little bit of exercise every day can provide many benefits, especially exercises that focus on leg and core strengthening, like balancing on one foot. A physician or physical therapist can provide guidance and information about local exercise classes
Medication review: Some medications can increase the risk of falls due to side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness, or drug interactions. Review medications with your family doctor regularly.
Vision assessment: A regular visit to an eye doctor will ensure eye prescriptions are up to date. Bifocals may increase your risk of falling.
Home safety assessment: Older adults are advised to avoiding walking in socks or stockings and to keep rooms well lit and free of clutter. Safety equipment—such as railings on both sides of stairways, grab bars by the shower, tub and toilet in the bathroom—should be installed.
Safe footwear: A good way to prevent slipping is to wear rubber-soled shoes or shoes with good traction and use handrails when available.