June 2014

Obesity and Falls: A Risk Factor for Older Adults

Obesity is linked to many health woes. The list includes heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Here’s one you may have never thought of, though: falling. At least for older adults, being obese may actually make falls more likely.

How obesity factors in

In a recent study, researchers surveyed more than 5,600 adults ages 65 and older. They asked study participants about any falls that occurred within the last year. Researchers specifically wanted to know how many times they had fallen and if they had been injured. They also collected each person’s body weight, physical activity level, and overall health.

After looking at the data, researchers noted a link between body weight and the risk of falling. Older adults who were obese were 31% more likely to have fallen in the past year. This same group was also less likely to believe they could prevent a fall in the first place. Many felt that a lack of coordination made them prone to falling.

Health problems may also partly explain the obesity and fall connection. In this study and similar past research, many people who were obese also suffered from other conditions, such as diabetes. In that case, low blood sugar can cause dizziness and lightheadedness.

How to prevent a fall

Falls are common for older adults. In fact, experts estimate that 1 out of 3 people age 65 and older falls every year. It’s a leading cause of injury and death in that age group. Falls that result in hip fractures and head injuries inflict the most damage.

Fortunately, many falls can be averted. Here are some important fall-preventing strategies:

  • Stay active. Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight. It can also prevent many diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. Be sure to do activities that build muscle and boost balance.

  • Talk with your doctor about your medications. Certain drugs can have side effects that may cause dizziness or drowsiness. These include high blood pressure pills, muscle relaxers, and sleep aids. They may affect your balance or coordination. That’s especially the case if you are taking more than one medication.

  • Visit your eye doctor every year. Poor vision can make walking or climbing stairs a challenge.

 

Fall-Proofing Your Home

Not every fall can be prevented. But you can protect yourself from many needless spills. Here are some ways to “fall-proof” your home:

  • Remove slippery rugs. Only use firmly attached or nonskid flooring.

  • Arrange furniture and other objects so they don't interfere with walking.

  • Eliminate any clutter on the floor. Pick up magazines, newspapers, shoes, and other objects. Remove electrical cords and telephone wires from walkways.

  • Firmly attach grab bars by tubs, showers, and toilets.

  • Make sure handrails on staircases, porches, and front walkways are tightly fastened.

  • Install adequate lighting throughout your home. Make sure light switches are easily accessible. Use night lights.

  • Move items you often use to lower shelves so you don’t need to use a step stool.

Read more about how to prevent falls here.

 

Online resources

National Institute on Aging

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases