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Preventing Falls May Be Key to Avoiding Disability in Elderly

Physical inactivity, depression and falls all increase risk of developing a disability in later life. But targeting falls may be a particularly effective way to reduce the nation’s disability levels, // according to a new study.

Fall-prevention efforts that combine education about risks with exercise, home safety and health assessments offer the most promise, at least in the short run, found researchers led by Vicki Freedman, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Freedman and her colleagues compared three strategies to reduce late-life disability: increasing physical activity, identifying and treating depression and avoiding falls. Their findings, published in the current issue of The Milbank Quarterly, arise from a review of more than 100 intervention studies.

The review found that fall prevention efforts targeted at frail adults can reduce the risk of falling and related injuries by about 25 percent. Community-wide efforts that have been tested abroad were shown to reduce fall-related fractures by 6 percent to 33 percent.

'Both medical and environmental aspects of disability need to be addressed in a disability prevention program,' Freedman said. 'Approaches that recognize the complexities of disability appear to be more successful than those that address only a single factor.'

About one-third of people aged 65 or older — or nearly 12 million people — experience falls, said Freedman. Of these, about 20 percent to 25 percent experience severe injuries or limitations.

Traditional health insurance programs may address medical aspects of a disability, but they rarely fund home safety changes or assistive technologies that may help an older adult live independently. The researchers call for additional research that considers how best to finance and deliver a multicomponent disability prevention program.

'Ideally, such an effort should consider not
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