If you are over the age of 65 and/or your parents are getting up in age, you may have increasing concerns about your/their risk of falling. Falls are common among older people. It is estimated at least one-third of people aged 65 years and over fall one or more times a year. In Australia, 75% of all injury-related hospitalisations in this age group are the result of a fall.
While falls do not always result in complete impairment; they can, however, result in significant injuries and negatively impact your quality of life and social burden. The most common bones to fracture after a fall are the femur (thigh), pelvis and spine.
What Factors Increase Risk of Falling
As we age, our body goes through a myriad of changes. Some of them are the direct result of changes in lifestyle, and others are the result of physical deterioration associated with the hormonal and physiological alterations that occur as we age. Changes in physical activity, poor diet and disease can contribute towards you developing factors that are strongly associated with an increased risk of falling.
Factors that increase falls risk:
- Weakened muscles
- Stiffening joints
- Poor reaction times
- Sensory and balance problems
- Impaired vision
- Some medications
Fortunately, many of these risk factors are modifiable. You are able to take action to help reduce your risk!
Believe it or not, good nutrition and exercise play an important role in reducing the likelihood of developing these risk factors and/or reducing the degree of severity experienced.
Nutrition for Reducing Falls Risk
Nutrition has a direct impact on reducing the risk of falling and if you do happen to fall, it can also impact the severity of injuries incurred. Inadequate intake of energy, protein and some vitamins and minerals can impact on not only strength, and bone integrity – it can also result in weight loss. Having a low body weight over the age of 65 increases the likelihood that the severity of injuries from a fall could be much greater.
So, what you should pay special attention to?
In conjunction with exercise, protein plays an important role in maintaining muscles mass and strength. An inadequate intake of protein can accelerate muscle wasting resulting in a reduction in strength and balance.
- Aim to have approximately 30g of protein with each meal.
- Prioritise strength training to build and maintain muscle mass (discuss with an Exercise Physiologist).
Getting enough of the right nutrients is integral to reducing the severity of falls if you do happen to have one. Both calcium and vitamin D play an important role in the maintenance of healthy bones.
- Aim for 3-4 serves of dairy/alternatives each day e.g. 250ml glass of milk, 2 slices of cheese, 200g yoghurt.
- Sit in the sun with hands, face and arms exposed for 6-7 minutes in the afternoon most days in summer. In winter spend 11-15 minutes in the afternoon (in all states outside of QLD).
- Consider supplementation with calcium and vitamin D (discuss with GP/dietitian).
- Move more and include strength/weight-bearing exercise classes into your routine
Vitamin B12 plays an essential role in maintaining nervous system function. It is essential for the preservation of the body’s conduction of nervous signalling and synthesis of neurotransmitters. A deficiency in vitamin B12 can result in sensory changes and cognitive impairment, increasing your risk of a fall. People over the age of 65 are also at an increased risk of deficiency as absorption is typically impaired with age, certain medications reduce absorption and certain conditions such as diabetes also increase risk of deficiency.
- Eat Vegemite and meat/eggs every week.
- Consider a supplement if you have diabetes or are on flux medications for >6 months.
- Request your GP check your B12 status using a blood test annually.
Changes in vision is a normal part of aging. However, a good diet can play a role in supporting eye health. Vitamins A, C and E are essential for eye health.
- Include 2 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables each day.
- Ensure you eat a range of different coloured fruit and vegetables (e.g. carrot/pumpkin/sweet potato for something orange + broccoli/beans/bok choy for something green etc).
- Eat a handful (30g) of nuts/seeds each day.
Dehydration can result in reductions in cognition and dizziness. As you age your sense of thirst also reduces, meaning you may need to become more intentional about drinking water as thirst becomes an increasingly poor indicator of need.
- Have a glass of water upon waking each morning.
- Leave a glass out to remind you to drink.
- Introduce a new flavour e.g. tea infusers.
- Continue your regular tea and coffee drinking habit.
As you can see, there is a lot you can do you reduce your risk of having a fall, or at the very least the severity. Both good nutrition and exercise are essential. If you would like further assistance with your nutrition, talk to one of our dietitians.