Fall risk is higher for those with cognitive impairment

September 6, 2019 by Institute on Aging
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Average Age Seniors Stop Driving

It’s no secret that as we age, we become increasingly at risk of falling, and fall-related injuries are more dangerousfor older adults. What researchers recently learned, however, is potentially significant: a definitive link between cognitive slowing and fall risk, and an opportunity to provide better care for those living with dementia.

Manuel Montero-Odasso, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, and his colleagues set out to study the role of cognition in falls, with the hope of managing and even preventing them in older adults.

Their study, published in the Journal of the American
Geriatrics Society last year, measured the relationship between gait and
cognition in aging adults. The study showed that low performance in attention
and executive function was associated with “gait slowing, instability, and
future falls.” In addition, older adults with dementia who experience a fall
are five times more likely to be admitted to long-term care facilities. They
are at higher risk for fractures, head injuries compared to older adults
without dementia who experience a fall.

Montero-Odasso and his team concluded that older adults living with dementia should have cognitive training specifically related to their motor function. Montero-Odasso also said he is optimistic about the role virtual reality might play as a therapeutic tool.

Fall risk is more common than you think

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, more than one in three people age 65 years or older falls each year. There are many factors at play, the HHS says. As we age, our eyesight, reflexes, and hearing aren’t what they used to be. Common health issues older adults face, such as thyroid or nerve issues, can also make a person more prone to a fall. In addition, some medications cause drowsiness, which might be enough to cause someone to catch their foot on the end of a rug and be unable to catch themselves before falling.

What else can older adults – and those soon to join the
older adult population – do to prevent
falls before they happen
? The HHS has several suggestions:

  • Stay
    physically active
    – Regular exercise keeps muscles, joints, and ligaments
    healthy and flexible, and may also slow bone loss due to osteoporosis
  • Have your
    eyesight and hearing tested
    – Ensure your glasses or contacts prescription
    is up to date, and if you have a hearing aid, always wear it
  • Ask about
    the side effects of your medications
  • Get
    enough sleep!
  • Limit
    alcohol consumption
    ­– Even a small amount can be enough to affect your
    reflexes
  • Stand up
    slowly
    – Getting up too quickly can cause your blood pressure to drop,
    which could be worsened by blood
    pressure medication
  • Use an
    assistive device if you need help feeling steady when you walk
  • Be very
    careful when walking on wet or icy surfaces
  • Wear good
    shoes
    – Non-skid, rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes that fully support your
    feet can make a big difference
  • Always
    tell your doctor if you have fallen since your last checkup, even if you aren’t
    hurt when you fall
    – A fall could be the result of a new health issue, so
    your doctor needs to know about it

For more information on fall prevention, visit https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/prevent-falls-and-fractures.

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