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Yale researchers believe they can predict seniors' recovery from falls

November 19, 2013

Falls are among the most common threats to healthy aging faced by seniors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one-third of adults 65 and older experience a fall every year. Despite the fact many seniors fall, the effects can vary wildly. Some may be back on their feet with relatively minor injuries, while others may require long term care or other assistance. This uncertainty can present a variety of challenges, but researchers at Yale believe they have developed a way to predict the severity of a senior's injury should he or she fall.

The findings were based on an extensive analysis of more than 750 older adults over the course of 14 years. Researchers interviewed the subjects by phone and conducted regular home visits, as well as monitored the rate of falls among the participants. At the end of the study, the team determined that the subjects' ability to recover from a fall, or avoid serious injury in the first place, was closely tied to their level of function before the incident. Specifically, if they had little or no disability, they often fared much better. 

"When you read reports of how devastating a hip fracture can be, it's because those patients are all lumped together," lead author Dr. Thomas M. Gill told The New York Times. "For doctors and patients and families, it's important to get an idea of what trajectory someone was on before."

Of course, there are some proactive steps seniors can take to prevent falls in the first place. In addition to staying physically active, which can improve balance and flexibility, it's important for older adults to consider the layout of their home, the Mayo Clinic notes. Small changes like removing clutter, adding grab bars and eliminating slippery rugs might make a big difference.