UCI Health family physician Elham Arghami, MD asked a room full of seniors in Corona del Mar how many of them had taken a spill. How many were afraid of falling? How many believed that falls were part of normal aging?
Raising her hands after each question, it became clear Arghami had her work cut out for her interactive lecture on Balance Issues and Fall Prevention earlier this month at the OASIS Senior Center.
Arghami, Assistant Clinical Professor of Family and Geriatric Medicine at the UCI School of Medicine, then asked the audience to share their experiences.
An 86-year-old man said he fell about once a month. He described an instance where he got distracted while talking with someone while walking and tripped over a fire hydrant.
He described another incident that happened when he walked from a dimly lit parking lot into bright sunshine and tipped over a concrete berm inside the parking lot.
“I trip and I fall,” he said. “Fortunately, I [sometimes] catch up to me.
A woman in the audience shared that she was walking down a friend’s driveway and just fell. She suffered no injuries but admitted she was afraid of falling.
Another woman said that a few months earlier she was carrying flowers and hadn’t seen any small stairs in her path. She fell and broke her ribs and was still in pain the day of the conference.
Arghami assured the audience that while gray hair, thinning skin, and wrinkles may be an inevitable part of aging, “falling out is not part of aging.”
She noted that problems with falls increase along with changes that occur during the aging process, but said most falls can be prevented.
Among the age-related changes are sensory and cognitive deficits and slower response time, she explained. Health problems such as chronic diseases (diabetes, Parkinson’s), walking and balance problems, muscle weakness, poor vision and fear of falling are all risk factors for falls.
Another risk factor for potential falls is environmental hazards such as stairs without handrails, dim lighting, obstacles and tripping hazards, she said.
According to Arghami, one in four older people falls each year, and if a person has fallen once there is a 50% chance that they will relapse. Every 20 minutes, someone can die from an injury sustained in a fall, she noted.
“COVID was more severe for older people,” Arghami said. “The pandemic has changed their way of life. They no longer went to public places or public transport. Now they mostly sat all day and used electronic communications more. »
As a result, she explained, they became both mental and physical challenges, affecting their mobility.
“Although they have done a great job reducing the transmission [of the coronavirus], isolation from being housebound, prolonged sitting, being less active leads to weak core muscles and decreased circulation,” Arghami said. “With 12% less physical activity, 10% less steps, 34% less sleep, 41% anxiety, 33% depression, the result is a 20% increase in falls.”
One of the biggest risk factors for falling is actually fear of falling, she explained. The perception of a person as unhealthy leads to an overall poor quality of life, as a person may become less independent by socially withdrawing and stopping activities. The latter leads to reduced strength, poor balance and increased disability, leading to an increased risk of falling.
Prescription and over-the-counter medications can play a role in increasing the risk of falling, as can alcohol consumption, the doctor explained.
“The older you get, the longer alcohol stays in the system,” Arghami said.
According to the National Institute on Aging, older adults can feel “uplifted” without increasing the amount of alcohol they drink. In addition, older women are more sensitive to alcohol than men.
When it comes to preventing falls, “exercise is most important for keeping muscles strong and working on balance to reduce fall injuries,” Dr. Arghami said. “It will provide a better mood, prevent anxiety, depression and you can socialize when training in group activities.”
She gave a demonstration to show that anyone can work on muscle strength and balance to improve mobility by doing simple exercises at home like the bridge, wall squats and presses. She then asked participants to participate in leg lifts and squats by gripping the back of their chair for support.
According to medical alert company Lifeline, the Chinese martial art tai chi offers many physical and mental benefits to seniors. The result is improved balance, flexibility and stability as well as improved core strength, cognitive function, memory, reduction in depression, anxiety and problems emotional and mental health.
Emory University School of Medicine has shown that tai chi classes help reduce the risk of falling by nearly 50%. Tai chi is gentle on the joints and will not increase pain or cause a person to become short of breath.
One of the OASIS conference attendees, Ellie Shobe Swan, said she found it excellent and informative. “I fell three times and I didn’t even know I was going to fall,” she said.