According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one third of adults aged 65 and older fall each year.
Slip and fall cases are a leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among elderly citizens, accounting for as many as 20,000 deaths in the U.S. annually; aside from injury itself, the fear of falling can also have an affect on physical heath and well being, including independence.
New Research into Falls
In a new study, researches at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine may have found a link between brain activity in healthy, older adults and the risk of falling.
The study included more than 100 elderly adults, who were part of an ongoing study at the center, and focused on control of mobility and aging. All participants were in good health and had no signs of dementia, disability, or other physical limitations.
The research was conducted over a four year period and began by assessing the participant’s ability to perform three different tasks: regular walking, reciting alternate letters of the alphabet while standing, and walking while simultaneously reciting alternative letters of the alphabet.
Brain activity was calculated using a noninvasive device that measured oxygen levels in the front of the brain during each task. After initial testing, participants were contacted regularly over the course of four years to find out who had or had not suffered a fall.
71% of 166 participants reported 116 falls during the four-year period; 34 participants had fallen more than once.
Interestingly, both the rate of speed a participant walked, and their ability to recite alternating letters in the alphabet, could not predict this outcome. However, the participant’s brain activity during theses activities combined did correlate to which participants were more likely to fall.
In other words, the more brain activity it takes to complete a task combining physical and cognitive abilities, the more likely a person is to suffer a fall.
The researchers’ findings concluded that changes in the brain that affect walking may be present years before a fall actually occurs. The question now is, what causes these changes in the brain, and how can we prevent them to ensure future falls are prevented?
The fear of falling can weigh heavily on the minds of seniors, and further accelerate mobility and mental degeneration. For example, the fear of falling, also known as basophobia, can hinder a person’s ability to stay active in later years, as well as reduce their mental stamina, which is often bolstered by physical health and social relations. The combination of these factors can greatly increase the brain activity required to complete rudimentary tasks, like walking, accelerating the likelihood of a fall.
As the data suggest, seniors are particularly susceptible to falls and are more likely to be injured or die from a fall, compared to other demographics. However, not all falls can be prevented, and some falls are caused by environmental factors out of our control. Falls caused by a negligent business owner, neighbor, or city department, for example, can have a negative effect on senior safety and their ability to participate in regular daily activities.
As a society, we should encourage seniors to stay active and involved because it actually reduces their susceptibility to falls.
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