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Why Elderly Persons Fall

Research is ongoing in laboratories to determine why falling is such a frequent occurrence in the elderly.

As you can imagine there are many aspects to this problem and the locomotion laboratories who are studying the problem are measuring gait, muscle use and force of each step taken by elderly persons. It is hoped that this will give a better insight into why persons actually fall.

Young people and old people are as likely to slip because they are walking on the same slippery surfaces and exposed to the same hazards in the home and elsewhere. Certainly young people are more active and doing things that might cause them to lose their balance, but for the sake of this study we are assuming that their exposure to risks is approximately the same.

It is known that aging degrades the ability to recover from a slip, turning a slip into a fall that a younger person might be able to avoid.

Risk factors for older people that young people do not share include a drop in blood pressure when standing up suddenly, various forms of arthritis, impaired vision, balance or muscle strength, dementia, and use of 4 or more prescription medications.

Understanding these mechanisms and trying to design a program that would lessen the risk factors is a huge but very important public health problem.

Treating the results of these falls are extremely expensive and a huge drain on health care resources.

The problem is further compounded seemingly by the fact that we have hardly scratched the surface in treating osteoporosis in the elderly before fractures actually occur. To make matters even worse health care seems to be segmented in which orthopaedic surgeons are treating the broken bones, but do not in many cases choose to manage osteoporosis.

If the family doctor or internal medicine doctor is not managing the osteoporosis the patients may not get treatment even after they have a fractured hip or fractured wrist for example.

There is obviously much that needs to be done in this area.