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Helping Seniors Avoid Falls

Written by Katherine O'Brien
 about the author
3 minute readLast updated April 21, 2023

When seniors fall, it can negatively impact both their mental and physical health. Older adults often limit their activities and social engagements in an attempt to avoid falling again, running the risk of depression and social isolation. This can backfire since avoiding activity can result in a loss of muscle strength and balance, which actually increases their chance of falling again.

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Fall prevention programs

Thankfully, a number of initiatives have been developed to try and decrease the number of falls in seniors.
For instance, the STRIDE study, the nation’s largest investigation of how to prevent injuries from falling, recruited more than 5,000 patients to test the effectiveness of “falls care managers” who help patients enroll in fall prevention programs.
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) introduced evidence-based fall prevention programs like the Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL), which provides exercises that can be done standing or sitting.

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Creating awareness and strength

In addition to providing balance and strength exercises, some fall prevention programs include an education component. For instance, the eight-week Matter of Balance program in Maine also teaches participants how to change their environment to reduce fall risk factors. The Stepping On program educates seniors about how to choose safe footwear and the role that vision in supporting balance.
Incidentally, the American version of the Stepping On program, which originated in Australia, has been shown to achieve a 50% reduction in falls. Similarly, the Otago Exercise Program, a series of strength and balance exercises which was developed in New Zealand, reduces falls between 35-40%. (Unlike the other programs mentioned here, Otago is delivered by a physical therapist in a senior’s home for six months to a year.)

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Using Eastern traditions

A couple of fall prevention programs have roots in Eastern traditions, such as Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention. Tai Chi movements are slow, smooth, and continuous, which can “calm the mind, helping to reduce falls resulting from sudden movements that lead to significant blood pressure drop.” Tai Chi practitioners are also mindful of transferring weight with each step, which helps to improve mobility, coordination, and balance.
There’s also the Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance program, which is built around seven modified individual Tai Ji Quan forms. This 24-week program aims to improve postural stability, movement symmetry, coordination, range of motion, and lower-extremity strength and develop skills that can be transferred to daily activities such as reaching, moving from sit-to-stand, and walking.
Finally, if your aging loved one wants to prevent falls on their own, the National Institute on Aging recommends several easy balance exercises.


Meet the Author
Katherine O'Brien

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