It’s a fact that as we age, we become more susceptible to injuries caused by falling. Statistics show that falling is the leading cause of injury in adults age 65 and older. This is because as we age, the body components that help us maintain balance, including muscles, bones, joints and vision deteriorate. Other contributors to balance, such as the balance organ in the inner ear, nerves, heart and blood vessels can also decline over time.
When these systems fail, balance can become problematic. Here are some changes to be aware of:
1. Sarcopenia: One in three adults age 60 and older suffers from severe muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia. Sarcopenia affects the strength of the legs, hips and core, all of which are critical to mobility. The loss of muscle mass and strength in the arms can make it difficult to catch yourself if you slip or trip. In addition, because the muscles of the body act as a cushion for the bones, if you fall because of inadequate muscle mass, you may be more likely to break a bone. Osteoporosis is another common medical condition that affects older adults and can be a serious concern if you fall.
2. Proprioception: Proprioception refers to the ability to sense where your body is relative to other things. This ability controls the body’s positioning and can decline through the decades. Add to that a possible loss of hearing and/or vision; the result may lessen the ability to maintain balance and stability. Issues of the inner ear (vestibular system) also contribute to falls.
3. Metabolic Diseases: Common health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and osteoarthritis can also increase the risk of falling. Abnormal heart rhythms, narrowed or blocked blood vessels, thickened heart muscle, or a decrease in blood volume can reduce blood flow and cause fainting or lightheadedness. Diabetes may cause nerve damage in the legs and feet. When the legs and feet go numb, it is hard to stay upright. Older adults with knee osteoarthritis perform poorly on measures of functional performance and postural stability, further contributing to falling concerns.
4. Nutrition: As we age, our nutrition requirements change. We may experience a decline in caloric intake, yet we may need more nutritional value. For example, a diet rich in vitamin D, calcium and protein can help strengthen the body overall. However, many older adults experience gastrointestinal problems that can lead to malnutrition. These changes can impact strength and stamina and increase the chances of falling. It’s never too late to take steps to protect against these age-related changes.
In my next blog I’ll discuss how the right kind of exercise can make us less susceptible to tumbles.