Do you know how many people over 65 fall each year? It's an amazing 30%! So here's the first question I think of: If you are over 65, how can you be sure that you are in the group that avoids a tumble? Recently scientists researched the literature to find out what kinds of intervention intended to reduce the chance of falling really worked. And what the best game plan is to prevent falling.
To do that, the authors examined all of the published trials that looked at different ways to prevent falls. They found 159 studies of over 79,000 men and women. Some of the studies went all the way back to 1946. Then they pooled all the results. Here's what they discovered.
Interventions that focused on group exercise reduced the rate of falls an average of 29%. The same sort of exercise schedule done at home did even better, with a fall reduction of 32%. Tai Chi is a series of gentle balancing exercises practiced in China for centuries. It reduced the risk of falling by 29%.
The other intervention that worked well was simply to examine the home environment and remove any potential dangers. These included any slippery surfaces or conditions that could cause a fall. These home safety interventions were more effective in people at higher risk of falling, including those with severe visual impairment. This reduced the falling rates by 19%.
One of the major causes of falling is poor vision. And the two major visual causes of falling were cataracts and multifocal glasses, such as bifocals and trifocals. When patients with cataracts had them surgically removed, their rate of falling went down 44%. Similarly, when patients who were frequently falling were given single-lens glasses, instead of their multifocal glasses, their rate of falling significantly decreased.
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But of all of the interventions that they looked at, you might be surprised to find out what the most important one was. It was none of these. What led the pack? I am sure that my doctor colleagues who rely on their drug reps for most of their medical information have probably never heard this. The biggest cause of falls was the prescriptions doled out by doctors. Specifically, the medications they dish out for anxiety, mood problems, and insomnia. When researchers took those medications away from patients, the number of falls they had dropped a whopping 66%!
Overall, the researchers found that the most effective ways to prevent falls were removing psychotropic drugs, group and home-based exercise programs, home safety interventions, cataract surgery, and getting rid of multifocal glasses. But don't go yet. I have one more thought about his.
In essence, the bad thing about falling is not the falling itself, but the possible fracture that might happen and the inability to get up again. Most of us have had a fall at some point in our lives. But as long as we didn't break anything and could get up and keep going, it just isn't that big of a problem. So here are two additional things you can do that will make the biggest difference of all.
One, make sure you are taking a combination of bio-identical hormone therapy and a supplement to strengthen your bones and prevent a fracture. There is nothing anywhere close to the efficacy of bio-identical hormone therapy and the right nutritional supplements to keep your bones strong as you age. To do this, you will need a doctor versed in bio-identical hormone replacement. Fortunately, more and more doctors are getting trained in this incredibly important therapy. As far as the supplements needed, easily one of the best supplements out there for bone health is Ultimate Bone Support. I ask my patients to take one tablet, two times daily.
Two, practice lying down on the floor and then getting up. Don't use a cane or anything else to help you. Just do it on your own. And once you have done it, do it again! This is a great general form of exercise, and will also strengthen all the muscles you need to get up if you ever fall for any reason. A good plan is to do it 10 times (or until you can't do it anymore), two times a week.
To your health, naturally,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Gillespie LD, Robertson MC, et al. Interventions for preventing falls in older people living in the community. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Sep 12;9:CD007146.