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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Seniors' Falling Injuries Are Preventable

Seniors Falling

Finding a Cause continued...

"We were quite surprised because this is counter to conventional wisdom," said Dr. Thomas Gill, associate professor of medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine, who led the study.

Instead, a person's health may have more to do with how frequently they fall and injure themselves, he said. Weak leg muscles, poor vision and medications that compromise balance may put elderly people at risk for falling. People should ask their doctors about the possibility of lowering the dosage of certain daily medications -- such as sleeping pills, antidepressants and blood pressure medications that could impair a person's sense of balance -- or eliminating them completely.

Gill presented his findings in May 1999 at the annual meeting of the American Geriatric Society. The study is currently under review for publication.

What You Can Do to Help Prevent Falls

Maintaining muscle strength through exercise may be the key to fall prevention. "Many elderly are scared of falling, so they restrict their activities and that can begin a downward spiral," Johnston said. "Paradoxically, what people need to do is to keep exercising to maintain their function to keep from falling."

She recommends strengthening leg muscles through weight training. She also advocates tai chi, a calm form of Chinese martial arts, which has been shown to reduce fall frequency because it promotes balance and strength.

Choosing shoes that are flat and have a wide toe is also important in fall prevention.

Because falls aren't always avoidable, older Americans should prepare themselves, Johnston said. Eating calcium-rich foods and taking calcium supplements to keep bones strong will play a big part in determining how people fare during and after a fall.

"If elders can stay active rather than becoming sedentary, they will do much better in their later years," she said. "There's hope. It is never too late."

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