The United States Preventive Services Task Force has weighed in on health issues such as prostate cancer screenings. Now the government panel is turning its focus on fall prevention, naming three lifestyle choices that can curb accidents in older people who live in assisted care facilities.
Taking vitamin D supplements was one of the fall prevention recommendations from the Task Force published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (though The New York Times notes the recommendation is not warmly received by other health organizations). After nine trials the Force found taking 800 I.U. of vitamin D daily reduced spills by 17 percent. Very few foods are naturally rich with the vitamin, but you can get your vitamin D fix by eating fatty fish (such as salmon and mackerel) and drinking milk along with taking supplements.
Exercise or physical therapy were also reported to have "moderate benefit" in the Task Force's study:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that older adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, as well as muscle-strengthening activities twice per week.
Adding three or more days of doing balance exercises such as tai chi to a workout may also help, especially for adults who are at a higher risk of falling due to an earlier slip or difficulty walking.
Finally, the Force recommended doctors observe and talk to their patients about their history to identify those with a higher risk of falling. If fall prevention is a serious concern for you, make it a point to speak to your doctor about it at your next appointment.
Fall prevention becomes increasingly important with age. The CDC reports that one in three adults 65 or older falls every year and one-quarter of seniors who suffer hip fractures die the following year, according to Cayuga Medical Center.
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Steps can be difficult to traverse, especially in the middle of the night when you are half-awake.
Bathrooms should have walk-in bathtubs, raised toilet seats, grab bars and non-slip floors.
Seniors need up to three times brighter lights to see adequately.
Ward says seniors who take four or more medications -- including over-the-counter drugs -- should be given help monitoring their drugs. Many drugs carry a caution label that they can cause dizziness or sleepiness.
Non-stick shoes are important and thick soles should be avoided.
Ward's program includes toe lifts, marches, step-ups, and heel-to-toe walks to improve balance and strength. She employs resistance bands to improve upper body strength and encourages health-promoting activities such as walking, yoga, pilates and tai chi. For those who have already fallen, she encourages something that specifically targets balance and strength.