A lot of people ask us this time of year whether we see an increase in people through the door with fall-related injuries from the snow and ice and as you can imagine the answer is yes, however one population seems to get it the worst. Falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-related hospitalization in seniors and nearly 20-30% of seniors experience one of more falls each year resulting in costs upwards of two billion dollars per year across Canada. Although there’s definitely an increase in falls related to the slippery weather outside, surprisingly, 50% of falls happen at the home where weather isn’t a factor. So what leads to such an increase in the risk and number of falls as we age?
There are a number of different factors that can increase falls risk such as the side effects from medicine, impaired vision, or environmental hazards (e.g. throw rugs, slippery steps), however the big factor I wanted to focus on today is related to the decline in mobility, activity, and balance as we age. As we age, there’s a perception that it is ok for seniors to do less because they’re “not as young as they used to be.” As a result, they’re often not challenged and eventually this results in a decline in strength, mobility, and independence which contribute to an increase in their risk of falls.
This is where the old saying “if you don’t use it you lose it” rings true. Past the age of 30, we lose on average 3-8% of our muscle mass per decade, putting us at a fighting disadvantage to start with. If you add inactivity and/ or bed rest, they only speed up the amount of decline in lean muscle. With the loss in muscle mass comes a loss in strength, all which can result in a decline in mobility and confidence in movement. Inactivity also results in a loss of bone mass as our bones need a constant stimulus to maintain their structure. If we don’t provide that stimulus our bones become more porous and puts us at risk of fracture, a problem not only found in seniors, but first studied in astronauts returning from space. Astronauts, however, will undergo 3-6 months of strict daily rehabilitation on returning to earth to rebuild muscle and bone mass, whereas most seniors will not have that opportunity. As you can see this is a hard cycle to break when in motion, but good news is we can do something to stop that!
There’s no reason you can’t continue to stay strong and active; maintenance is key however strength gains are still possible at any age. A lot of time people will cite old injuries, medical conditions, or other commitments as easy excuses to avoiding activity, but it’s always going to be easier to find an excuse than commit to making a behaviour change. Start small and try to stay active in your house and/ or community, keep moving through your available range of motion at each joint, and challenge yourself in a safe environment. Grab a friend and go for a walk, join an exercise group at your local fitness facility, or talk to your local healthcare professional about how to get started. If you’re unsure where to start or want to learn more, contact us at 902-530-3553 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.