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Biological Risk Factors for Falling

Fall Focus on Falls Prevention continues with discussing biological risk factors for falling. All of us are at risk for falling, however when we get older the risk for serious injury from a fall increases. There are many risk factors for falling, that is why reducing the number of risk factors for falls and the chance of injury should be part of your plan to stay independent. Older adults do not fall for the same reason, there can be multiple risk factors that contribute to a fall.

In the last blog we discussed inappropriate footwear as a heightened risk factor for falls and injury which is a Behavioral Risk Factor. In this blog I want to focus on the Biological Risk Factors contributing to a heightened fall risk. We can split up biological risk factor between non-modifiable (things we cannot do much about to change such as age, sex and race) and risk factors that are somewhat more modifiable (things that we have some control over).

Being older than 80 and female is a Non-Modifiable Risk Factors associated with a heightened risk of falling, and fall-related injuries increase with age in BOTH MEN and WOMEN.

The Somewhat Modifiable Risk Factors for falling can be changed with targeted interventions. Modifiable risk factors include age-associated physical and cognitive decline and chronic disease. Difficulty performing a variety of Activities of Daily Living (ADL) and impaired mobility (such as problems with walking, getting up from a chair etc) have also been identified as heightened fall risk factors.

Poor performance on specific tests of balance and gait (walking ability) are also strongly associated with increased fall risk.

Medical Conditions and Fall Risk:

Medical conditions are somewhat modifiable and maybe improved with targeted interventions and treatment. Chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, osteoporosis, arthritis, and dementia have been shown to be moderately to strongly predictive of increased fall risk. Increased joint pain and decreased range of motion that often accompany arthritis have a strong association with increased falls, however can often be improved with weight loss that reduces stress on the joint and targeted exercise that strengthens the joint as well as joints above and below the painful area.

What you can do to reduce these risk factors for falls and injury

  • Ease in performing activities of daily living (ADL’s): Reduce or eliminate Modifiable Risk Factors for Falling by improving your ability to perform Activities of Daily Living with targeted exercises. Loss of strength, balance, reduced mobility, limited joint range of motion can often be improved and can enhance functional health and fitness which in turn allows you to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s) with more ease, and possibly enhance reaction time so that you are able to “catch” yourself from falling.

  • Enhanced cognition: Physical activity increases circulation and renhanced blood flow to the brain has been proven to enhance brain function. Pair this with whole food plant based nutrients which can enhance vascular health.

  • Reduce painful joints: Carrying extra body weight puts stress on joints such as knees and hips. Reducing body weight with healthy nutrition that reduces inflammation and contributes to weight loss, exercise to reduce body fat paired with targeted exercises to increase muscle strength can help prevent or eliminate falls related to joint pain.

  • Enhanced bone health: Osteoporosis increases the risk for hip and other fractures in the event of a fall. A stooped forward posture (kyphosis) are often the result of spinal fractures that have healed in a misaligned position due to poor posture and weak muscles that support the lumbar, thoracic and cervical spine. Weight bearing exercise and resistance training have been proven to enhance bone density without the side effects common to drugs often prescribed to increase bone density.

  • Stroke: High blood pressure and atrial fibrillation have been associated with the risk for stroke. Lifestyle Medicine is often prescribed to better control blood pressure, this includes changing your habits in the way you eat and move.

  • Parkinson’s disease(PD): it is well known that targeted exercise in those with PD can reduce fall risk. Improvement in posture, reaction time, how to respond to “freezing”, joint range of motion, step length can be improved with targeted exercise.

Take back control and reduce your risk factors for falling and thus reduce your changes for injury.

Our next blog will cover Medication and Fall Risk and Environmental Risk Factors for falling.

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