Vitality for Seniors: Why Preventing Falls Is So Important

Falls are the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries in people over the age of 65. Every year, one in three people in this age group falls, and the probability that a fall will result in serious injury increases with age.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2.4 million older adults were treated in emergency departments for falls in 2012, with more than 30 percent of them requiring hospitalization. 

After experiencing a fall, people may become less mobile and consequently lose their independence. Many older adults develop a fear of falling and often limit their activities and social interactions. The resulting isolation can lead to further physical decline, depression and feelings of helplessness, significantly impacting quality of life. 

Nine out of ten hip fractures in older adults are caused by falls.  On average, a patient with a hip fracture is hospitalized for one week, and 25 percent of those patients need extended care in a nursing home for at least one year. The CDC reports that up to 20 percent of patients with a hip fracture will die from resulting complications. 

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How Exercise Helps Prevent Falls

As people age, muscle mass is lost, resulting in decreased strength, elasticity and joint mobility. At the same time, balance may be compromised as well, and the combination of dizziness and weakness increases the likelihood of falling. To offset these changes, it is important for older adults to engage in some form of exercise. 

A particularly good form of exercise for people with limited mobility is Tai Chi.  This ancient Chinese discipline involving a continuous series of controlled, usually gentle, flowing movements has been shown to improve strength, flexibility, balance and coordination.  A 2001 study conducted by the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene reported that seniors who took Tai Chi classes for an hour twice a week reported having an easier time with activities like walking, climbing, bending, lifting, eating, and dressing than those who did not participate in the classes.

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