AGING
August 27, 2015

An Easy Change Reduces Falls Among The Elderly

Falls are a big problem for seniors. They can mean the end of independence. Good nutrition can cut the risk in half.

Falling is a big worry for seniors. Every year millions of older adults fall. The head injuries or fractures that can result can increase their risk of early death.

Even if they are not injured, seniors who have had a fall often become fearful of falling again. This leads them to decrease their activity levels. Eventually, falls and the fear of falling can lead to their becoming dependent on a loved one or ending up in a nursing home.

Those receiving vitamin D supplements experienced half the falls of those who did not.

The good news is that good nutrition can reduce your likelihood of falling: Vitamin D's role in maintaining muscle strength means it can help reduce the risk of falling.

Older adults often get too little vitamin D. They may spend little time in the sun, a primary source of vitamin D. Their diets are also more likely to be generally poor.

“Falls in homebound older people often lead to disability and placement in a nursing home,” Denise Houston, the lead author of a small pilot study that evaluated the value of providing a vitamin D supplement through the local Meals-on-Wheels (MOW) program, said in a statement.

“One or our aging center's goals is to help people maintain their independence and live safely at home for as long as possible,” Houston, an associate professor of gerontology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, added.

Participants’ history of falls and fear of falling, along with measures of their vitamin D levels were recorded at the start of the study. Half were given a vitamin D supplement containing 100,000 IU (International Units); the other half a placebo with their MOW meal. Then researchers tracked the number of falls and the vitamin D levels of each person over the term of the study.

Over half of the participants had inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood at the start of the study. Only a fourth had a level in the optimal range.

By the end of the study, however, everyone in the group who received the vitamin D supplement except for one person had sufficient levels of vitamin D, and in all but five cases, vitamin D levels reached the optimal level. More importantly, those who received supplements experienced half the falls of those who did not receive a vitamin D supplement.

A larger study will need to be performed to confirm the results. In the meantime, the team is looking to see if vitamin D affects balance, muscle strength, and power — all risk factors for falls.

There are very few food sources of vitamin D. Among the best sources are fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel. Small amounts are found in cheese, beef liver, and egg yolks. Almost all milk has vitamin D added, so do some breakfast cereals, margarine, and yogurt.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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