Elderly People More Vulnerable To Falls Due To The Pandemic

A recent national poll has shown that COVID-19 may have raised the chance of older adults falling or injuring themselves due to mobility, conditioning, and physical activity changes.

Over a third (33%) of those aged 50-80 reported that their activity levels declined during the first ten months of the pandemic. The National Poll on Healthy Aging’s new findings shows that more than 25% of people are in worse physical health now than they were before the pandemic. Many of these adults reported an increase in fear of falling.

Research suggests that the decreased physical conditioning and fear of falling may increase future fall risk and decrease independence. The poll leaders have observed that the pandemic is decreasing in the United States. They believe that better awareness of this connection may help adults of all ages to increase or maintain their activity, especially if they are less mobile or active due to it.

According to the poll, 25% of older adults fell between March 2020 and January 2021 when the pandemic began. 40% of those who fell experienced more than one fall in this time frame.

This poll also identifies certain groups like older adults, women, Blacks, those living alone, and seniors over 65 who may require additional support and culture awareness to improve their physical condition and decrease fall risk. This assistance could be provided by health and fitness professionals, family members, or friends.

The University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation is where the poll happened. It receives support from AARP and Michigan Medicine (the U-M’s academic and medical center). Based on responses from more than 2,000 adults between 50 and 80, the new report was created in January 2021.

“Many older adults fall each year, and the pandemic was no exception. Many falls result in at least a minor injury in this age group, and a third require medical attention,” said Geoffrey Hoffman, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the U-M School of Nursing and falls researcher who worked with the poll team.

“Physical conditioning can make a major difference for maintaining independence, including avoiding a fall, but also how well someone reacts to and recovers from one. Focusing on prevention now, including physical health and activity but also home safety and social factors that can increase risk, is crucial.”

“The poll also reveals clues about how the loneliness and lack of companionship that increased among older adults during the pandemic might play into changes in activity levels, mobility, and fall risk,” says poll director Preeti Malani, M.D., a Michigan Medicine infectious disease physician also trained in geriatrics.

The number of older adults who reported falling was 32% higher than those who reported they had no companionship. These older adults were also more likely to report less exercise, worsened mobility, and poor physical condition than the rest. Two previous reports by the NPHA have been published on the health effects of loneliness in older adults. These were both issued before and after the pandemic.

“As life gets closer to normal, especially for the large percentage of older adults who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, health care providers and loved ones should encourage more interactions that involve safe physical activity,” Preeti said. “We need to make up for lost time and get older adults on track, or back on track, with the kinds of movement and strengthening that can safeguard their independence by reducing their risk of falls or major fall-related injuries. Even better if this happens in conjunction with social interaction.”

“Falls are a significant health and safety concern for older adults,” said Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP. “Thankfully, there are many ways you can reduce your risk of falling, including simple home modifications like using brighter lightbulbs, removing throw rugs, and making sure electrical cords are tucked out of the way.”

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