Extra weight may add to elderly fall risk

Feb 19 2014, 11:19 IST
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SummaryFor Australians over age 65 included in a new study, being obese raised the risk of experiencing a fall by 31 percent.

For Australians over age 65 included in a new study, being obese raised the risk of experiencing a fall by 31 percent.

"Falls are one of the most common causes of injury for older individuals and as the world population ages, the number of fall-related injuries are projected to increase rapidly," said lead author Rebecca Mitchell.

"Likewise, rates of overweight and obesity among older individuals are also increasing," added Mitchell, a researcher with Neuroscience Research Australia at the University of New South Wales.

Mitchell and her colleagues wanted to determine whether overweight and obesity added to the risk of falling among older adults, as well as the risk of being injured in a fall.

The researchers used information from the New South Wales Prevention Baseline Survey, a large Australian population study started in 2009.

A total of 5,681 people 65 years of age and older were asked about their history of falling, their perception of their own risk of falling, their general health status, medication use and activity levels.

Participants who had fallen one or more times in the previous 12 months as a result of accidentally losing their balance, tripping or slipping were also asked how many of those falls resulted in injury and how many required medical attention or led to hospital admission.

According to the results published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 23 percent of healthy-weight respondents had fallen once during the previous 12 months and 34 percent had fallen more than once.

About 30 percent of obese respondents fell once and another 45 percent fell more than once, making the overall fall risk 31 percent higher in the obese group.

The obese participants who fell didn't have any higher risk of fall-related injuries compared to healthy-weight people who fell, but they were more likely to have other health conditions - such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure - and to report being in moderate or extreme discomfort.

Those who were obese and fell were also more likely to be taking four or more prescription medications.

"It is difficult to know for certain why the risk of falling increases for obese individuals, but it is likely to be as a result of reduced peripheral sensation, general physical weakness and instability when standing or walking," Mitchell said.

There are a number of common risk factors that can increase any older person's risk of falling, she added.

"These can include individual factors such as: poor

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