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Preventing Falls Among the Elderly

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) (Getty Images)

Senator Byrd, meet Mary Tinetti.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), 91, reportedly lost his balance and fell down in his home Tuesday morning. It happens all the time to older people, for whom falling down can pose serious health issues.

But falling down isn't an inevitable part of aging. So says Mary Tinetti, professor of medicine, epidemiology and public health at the Yale School of Medicine. Tinetti has been a leading researcher looking at seniors, the falls they take and the effect falling has on their health. Her research cites figures showing that a third of people over 65 fall each year and that fully half of those over 80 will fall in a given year.

Tinetti's work caught the attention of the MacArthur Foundation, which on Tuesday named her one of 24 recipients of the foundation's famous "genius" grants this year.

Tinetti's research has demonstrated that older people don't typically just fall down for no good reason; their falls are commonly due to such factors as impaired balance, gait, cognition, vision and muscle strength plus changes in blood pressure, physical obstacles in their living areas and taking multiple medications. By figuring out what causes seniors to fall, Tinetti's been able to devise ways to prevent falling -- simple measures such as cutting back on medications, teaching balance exercises and removing those physical obstacles -- and thus to ward off falling's complications, such as hip fracture, and the physical and mental decline that often follows a fall.

Tinetti has been working to help physicians view fall prevention as an integral part of the care of older patients. It sounds simple, right? But despite the frequency with which seniors fall, it seems nobody had called attention to falling as a major and preventable source of poor health among the elderly.

Nobody, that is, until Tinetti. That's why she got that big ($500,000 over five years, to be spent as she wishes) MacArthur grant.

Do you figure they ever give those to health bloggers?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 23, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Aging , General Health , Seniors  
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1 in 3 over 65 have a fall each year, 70% of accidental deaths in people over 75 are caused by falls.

Fall Risk/Fall Prevention test -

Posted by: kkrimmer | September 23, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Here are interventions that seem to prevent falls, from a Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2009:
1) A programme of muscle strengthening and balance retraining, individually prescribed at home by a trained health professional 2) Home hazard assessment and modification that is professionally prescribed for older people with a history of falling 3) Withdrawal of psychotropic medication 4) Cardiac pacing for fallers with cardioinhibitory carotid sinus hypersensitivity 5) A 15 week Tai Chi group exercise.-------------Steve Parker, M.D.

Posted by: SteveParkerMD | September 23, 2009 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Professor Tinetti's work in Connecticut inspired a group of Northern Virgina businesses to form the Northern Virginia Fall Prevention Coalition. The message is that FALLS ARE NOT AN INEVITABLE PART OF AGING THEY ARE PREVENTABLE. We have a Fall Prevention Summit scheduled for the 10th of October in Leesburg, Va. Lynn Beattie from the National Council of Aging will be the featured speaker. Lenny Recupero from the Virginia Department of Health Division of Injury Prevention will also present on the state of fall injuries in Virginia.
We follow the guidelines of the CDC's 'Preventing Falls' program.
For more info contact Tony Schaffer, Chairman, Northern Virginia Fall Prevention Coalition

Posted by: chairnvfpc | September 23, 2009 7:57 PM | Report abuse

I agree that a good program of muscle strengthening with an emphasis on balance retraining is important for preventing falls in older adults. For the past 20 years, we have been providing such programs to older adults in independent and assisted living centers, as well as senior community centers in Montgomery County,and DC with our fitness training. These classes are done with a combination of seated and standing movements, and we now have this program available on DVD- available for everyone. Called "Your Body is Meant to Move" is an easy to follow DVD for older adults and beginner exercisers- comes with free exercise band. Coming soon is our new DVD called "Moving Right Along" which features more standing exercises, postural exercises and balance training for older adults, or people of any age who want to improve their strength, flexibility and balance.
To learn more about us, go to or call 301-439-3274
Dave Reynolds, ACSM
Fitness Specialist
Dave Reynolds and Associates, LLC
Personal Fitness Specialists

Posted by: 8sun2nyck | September 24, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Mary Tinetti and her colleagues at Yale devote an amazing amount of time speaking at conferences on preventing falls and sharing their research. She is so deserving of the grant. The damage of a fall is catastrophic, whether it's a broken hip (often called a death sentence for seniors) or a brain injury. One of the important parts of fall prevention is maintaining muscle, and it has many other health benefits as well. Here is a recent newsletter detailing why even seniors should lift (light) weights to maintain or regain muscle density:

Posted by: julieparentgivingcom | September 24, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

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