Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How do you stop the elderly from falling? Diet and exercise

If you are over 65 years old, one of the most dangerous things that can happen in your world is a fall. Thousands of people die every year in North America from the repercussions of falling. Worse than death sometimes, falls can lead to significant reduction in quality of life. Elderly people who were independent and living on their own can be bed bound and completely dependent on assistance to do everything from shopping and cooking to eating and toileting.

The actual act of falling is rarely fatal for seniors. Obviously, if a person falls from the roof of their house, they could break their neck and die, but very few seniors are running around on roof tops. Death from a fall is usually secondary to the comorbidities caused by the fall. For example, an all too common way for an elderly person to die is to fall and break their hip. Their hip may be surgically repaired, but post-operatively their mobility has been decreased and they lie in bed all day. Lying in bed causes parts of their lung to collapse on themselves and become an incubator for bacteria. Then they develop a pneumonia that they cannot fight off and their weakened body succumbs to this series of insults hurled against it.

There are a number of ways to protect elderly people who fall, including hip protectors which cushion the hip from the force of the fall. Unfortunately, these are not the most stylish, comfortable, or even effective methods to protect seniors. The best protection is prevention. An article in the globe and mail discusses how a good diet and adequate exercise are fall prevention and protection methods.

I know that doctors and health media always push improved diet and exercise as the solution to every problems, but it really makes sense here. Seniors who exercise will have an increased range of motion, stronger stabilizing muscles, thicker bones, and better balance (I think the better balance is primarily due to the strong stabilizing muscles). This means that they will be less likely to fall. If they do fall, they will be more flexible and have stronger bones, which means they will be able to escape the fall with fewer torn muscles and broken bones.

Diet is also important because seniors are no longer as effective at getting or keeping nutrients from their food. Calcium and vitamin D are particularly important because they are essential nutrients in the building, strengthening, and repair of bones. Again, a healthy diet leads to a healthy body and that can better prevent falls and injury.

The Globe and Mail will be discussing fall prevention and protection in further detail. I suggest having a read through this series because stopping the falls and the injuries they can cause will significantly increase both the quantity and quality of the lives of any elderly family you have.

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