By Supriya Venigalla, MD, MPH
Happy Fall, Walk Georgians! Now that the weather is getting cooler, you probably want to get outdoors as much as possible. But if you’re 65 and older, you may be worried about falling and injuring yourself.
It’s a legitimate concern because a single fall can be traumatic to aging bones, and can lead to hip fractures, head injuries, or result in extended hospitalization. However, being older does not mean you’re prone to falling, and anyone can be at risk as a result of certain medications, vision changes, or degenerative diseases like arthritis. Even the clutter in your house or poor lighting could lead to a fall.
The good news is that unlike the change in seasons, falls are preventable.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that seniors join a fall-prevention program designed to improve strength, balance, agility, and coordination. Not only do these types of programs reduce the rate of falls, but they can also prevent serious injuries if a fall does happen.
In 2015, researchers in Finland investigated the effects of an exercise program for older women in a two-year clinical trial. The women had a history of falls in the previous year. The trial had group and home exercises, and injuries were recorded in fall diaries. The researchers found that at the end of the two-year period, the rate of medically attended, injurious falls was over 50 percent lower.
Activities like yoga with balance exercises (single-leg stance), strength exercises (chair squats), and resistance exercises (with an exercise band) all help improve balance and coordination. Exercises like these also protect against declining muscle mass and help keep joints stable.
Fall prevention programs are usually offered by community health centers. A good program should have an education component, a physical activity component, medication review, vision assessment, and home safety assessment. Also, talk to your doctor about taking vitamin D supplements with calcium.
In the state of Georgia, Shepherd Center in Atlanta offers a number of fall prevention resources. The Division of Aging Services at the Georgia Department of Human Services and The Georgia Department of Public Health’s Injury Prevention Program can tell you more about the resources in your community.
With all these resources, don’t worry about engaging in a little exercise. Nothing should stop you from enjoying this weather.
Editor’s note: Encouragement is one of our program’s main goals; please help us by encouraging your at-risk friends and family to participate in these potentially life-saving exercises and classes this fall!
- Patil, R., Uusi-Rasi, K., Tokola, K., Karinkanta, S., Kannus, P., & Sievänen, H. (2015). Effects of a Multimodal Exercise Program on Physical Function, Falls, and Injuries in Older Women: A 2-Year Community-Based, Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society, 63(7), 1306-1313.
- Preventing Falls: How to Develop Community-based Fall Prevention Programs for Older Adults. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
- Cobb County Public Library System – Falls Prevention Awareness Resources