Seniors walking out of necessity at highest risk for falls
While seniors are still encouraged to stay active throughout their golden years, new research shows older adults may have a greater risk for falling when walking for purposes other than recreation.
The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, examined the relationship between older adults’ walking habits, socioeconomic status among their neighborhoods and the frequency of falls outdoors.
The study found that older adults have double the risk for falling while walking “out of necessity” and a four times greater risk for a fall-induced injury when walking on the sidewalk than in a recreational area, said lead study author Wenjun Li, PhD, in a news release.
“These differences were not explained by individual factors such as an elder’s health, leading us to conclude the environment may play a significant role,” Li said. “Further research will explore how elders interact with their environment and how to make neighborhoods safer for utilitarian walking.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in older adults. In fact, one out three adults aged 65 or older fall each year but do not report it to their physician.
Health experts say sedentary lifestyles weaken the body, but continuing to build muscle and stamina can go a long way in keeping seniors on their feet.
“Lifting weights, or doing any exercise that uses body weight for resistance, can build muscle and increase stability in older adults,” said Dr. Tony Hampton, a family care physician for Advocate Medical Group in Chicago. “Seniors should consider gardening and other activities that keep the body limber and in motion as a prevention against falls. Exercises, such as Yoga or Tai Chi, can be especially helpful.”
Dr. Hampton added that seniors should review their medications with their physicians as some may cause dizziness or drowsiness and have an annual eye exam to ensure eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions are up to date.
“I tell my patients the single most important thing you can do for your health is walk,” Dr. Rhoades says. “The most important aspect to aging well is getting physical activity.”
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