Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Exercise, vitamin D may prevent falls: guidelines
By Kerry Grens
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -- Older adults who are at high risk of falls should have physical therapy
and take vitamin D supplements to reduce their chance of injury, according
to new recommendations from a government-backed panel.
Falling is "a common problem and it's often overlooked because
doctors may not be aware of their patients' fall risk," said
Dr. Albert Siu, a professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York
and vice co-chair of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF),
which came out with the recommendations on Monday.
"By asking about falls and by observing the patient in terms of walking,
we might be able to asses who might be at risk and who can benefit"
from preventive measures, Siu told Reuters Health.
Falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults, he added.
According to the new guidelines, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine,
30 to 40 percent of people age 65 or older fall at least once each year,
and five to 10 percent of them will have a serious injury such as a hip fracture.
The USPSTF makes recommendations on a range of prevention and treatment
issues, and its guidelines on reducing the risk of falls in the elderly
had not been updated since 1996.
There has been considerable research done since then on what seniors can
do to prevent falls -- and what doesn't seem to work. For instance,
correcting vision, wearing a shield called a hip protector, stopping some
medications or taking protein supplements do not reduce the risk that
someone will have a fall, according to the guidelines.
Vitamin D, exercise and physical therapy, however, are moderately beneficial,
reducing the risk of falling by 13 to 17 percent (see Reuters Health report
of December 21, 2010).
A 13 percent reduction in falls would mean that instead of 30 out of 100
older adults having a fall each year, that number would drop to 26.
In the USPSTF's review of the evidence on vitamin D, the panel found
that to prevent one elderly person from falling, 10 would have to take
vitamin D supplements.
Siu said the usual dose is 800 international units (IUs) per day, and studies
suggest people should take vitamin D for one year to see any benefit.
For exercise or physical therapy, one person would be spared a fall among
every 16 people who participate in a program for 12 weeks.
Siu said there's not one particular exercise regimen that works best
for preventing falls, and that people should talk to their doctors about
finding an exercise or physical therapy program they'll stick to over
the long run.
"I know from experience, if you recommend something someone had very
little interest in, it's not going to get done," he said.
Siu said doctors can pick out patients who are at a higher risk of falling
by informal assessments, such as watching how steady they are on their
feet and asking them whether they've had a fall recently.
Physicians can also use a more formal test that includes timing how quickly
people can get up from a chair, walk a few paces and return to the same spot.
The USPSTF recommends against more detailed assessments of these higher
risk patients, such as evaluating their balance and if their homes have
There seems to be only a minor benefit from doing an in-depth examination
of risks and how to manage them, according to Siu -- and such an undertaking
should be reserved for just those patients that a doctor feels would truly
benefit, rather than widely applied to all patients at risk of falling.
http://bit.ly/L9cPi0 Annals of Internal Medicine, May 28, 2012.
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