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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Exercise, Vitamin D Reduce Risk of Falls in Elderly

Researchers Say Number of Falls, Costs Expected to Rise
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 20, 2010 -- A federal task force’s review finds that for Americans 65 and older, exercise and vitamin D supplements can help reduce the risk of falling.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reviewed findings from 54 clinical trials to determine the benefits and possible harmful effects of interventions aimed at preventing falls in elderly people.

Task Force Findings

The review of research shows:

  • Exercise or physical therapy can reduce fall risk by 13%. This includes exercise for strength, balance, and flexibility.
  • Vitamin D supplementation was linked to a 17% reduced risk of falls.
  • Other interventions may also be helpful: Homes should be carefully examined to determine if impediments that could lead to falls could be removed or modified.
  • Behavioral counseling might help older people better understand the risks and potential consequences of falls.

Yvonne Michael, ScD, and colleagues published their review in the Dec. 21 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The review, an accompanying article, and an editorial all point to the hazards for older people of falling.

Falls Among Elderly Likely to Rise Dramatically

An editorial by Mary E. Tinetti, MD, of the Yale University School of Medicine, notes that falls among elderly people will become even more of a problem than it is now, but that it’s already significant.

Compared with 1984, “today’s typical primary care patient is older, takes more medications, has more chronic conditions, and visits more specialists who perform more tests and procedures and recommend more interventions,” Tinetti writes. “Preventive recommendations are increasingly being imposed on already overburdened providers and patients.”

Falls Lead to Premature Deaths of Elderly

Another report in the Annals of Internal Medicine says recommendations by the task force are needed “because of the anticipated, unprecedented growth of this population in the near future” due to the aging of the 78-million strong baby boom generation.

In the task force review, authors note that between 30% and 40% of community-dwelling people 65 and older fall at least once per year.

“Falls were the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among persons 65 and older,” cites the task force report. The authors write that estimates indicate falls could lead to medical costs of $43.8 billion by 2020 at the current rate of spending.

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