In recognition of Osteoporosis Awareness Month and Fall Prevention Month, we’re focusing on maintaining a safe and healthy lifestyle for older adults. Lora Giangregorio, Schlegel Research Chair in Mobility and Aging, shares valuable tips on avoiding falls and preventing fractures.
What are the most common causes of falls in older adults?
Falls can happen for many reasons – problems with vision, health conditions or medications that make one dizzy or unstable, tripping over clutter or rugs, missteps on stairs, not being able to react and take a step or grab something to steady yourself, among others.
What practical steps can individuals take to minimize the risk of falls?
- If a person is falling often, an occupational therapist can visit and suggest changes to make your home safer.
- Everyone, not just older adults, should remove trip hazards and make sure stairs and rooms are well-lit to prevent tripping.
- When doing tasks on step ladders, wear appropriate footwear and don’t lean in ways that increase fall risk.
- Stay hydrated and eat at regular intervals to avoid dizziness or problems with judgement.
- Discuss your medications with a pharmacist to see if there are any that increase your risk of falls.
- Chat with a health-care provider about your individual fall risk factors and how to address them.
- The best way to prevent falls is to do balance and functional exercises at least two or three times a week.
Can you recommend simple exercises or activities that older adults can incorporate into their daily routines to improve balance and reduce the risk of falls?
I can’t recommend specific exercises that are suitable for everyone because everyone’s balance and abilities are unique, and the key is to find exercises that are not too hard or too easy. If the exercises feel too easy, they probably aren’t doing enough to help you improve your balance.. If they are too hard, you could increase your risk of falls. When picking balance exercises, go for something that requires you to concentrate hard to keep your balance, but doesn’t make you feel like you’re about to fall over or out of control.
How can people prevent getting osteoporosis?
Some people will develop osteoporosis or experience fractures even if they eat well and exercise. However, you can reduce your fracture risk by addressing factors within your control, such as doing regular balance exercises, strength training and impact exercise, getting enough calories and protein to maintain muscle and bone, consuming the recommended daily amount of calcium and vitamin D, minimizing alcohol consumption, avoiding smoking, and addressing other risk factors in consultation with a health-care provider.
What are the signs and symptoms of osteoporosis?
There are no symptoms of osteoporosis. To identify osteoporosis, a health-care provider will order a bone mineral density test if a person has risk factors. Even then, they will consider your age, your bone mineral density, and other risk factors together to determine your risk of fracture in the future. Sometimes, people can have lower than average bone mineral density, but their fracture risk is not very high. Therefore, it is important to discuss bone mineral density results with a health-care provider.
For people living with osteoporosis, what exercises are safe for them?
There is no safe versus unsafe exercise for all people with osteoporosis. We want to encourage exercise rather than use language that promotes fear and physical activity avoidance. Each individual has a different ability and fracture risk. Most people can do any exercises that they wish if they start at a level appropriate for their ability and fracture risk, and progress the intensity of exercise slowly over time. For people at high risk of fracture, it is ideal to consult with an exercise professional with specific training on exercise for osteoporosis to help them. It may be a good idea to take precautions to reduce fall risk during physical activity or protect your spine by avoiding activities that increase the loads on the spine far beyond your typical activity. For example, avoiding lifting heavy furniture, or twisting or bending forward or to the side rapidly, repetitively, all the way, or when holding something heavy.
Do you have low bone density, osteopenia or osteoporosis and are aged 50+?
You can help Lora with her research comparing different types of exercise to help inform exercise recommendations for people with osteoporosis or low bone mineral density.