The Role of Nutrition in Fall Prevention

Posted on Thursday, December 9, 2021

Healthy muscle and bone strength help to decrease the risk of falls; however, as individuals mature, they often lose both strength and endurance.

Each year, millions of older people (those aged 65 and older) suffer a fall, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many falls don’t cause injuries; however, the consequences of falling can be significant. One in every five falls causes a serious injury—like a broken bone, a fracture, severe pain, or a head injury—that could limit one’s mobility or even prevent them from living independently.

Statistics show falling once doubles the chances of falling again. Many people who fall limit their activities in fear of another fall, which could cause their bodies to weaken, thereby putting them at greater risk of falling again.

The CDC reports that over 800,000 patients are hospitalized annually due to a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture. In fact, more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling, usually by falling sideways. In 2015, medical costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion.

The Joint Commission for Transforming Healthcare reports 30–35% of the hundreds of thousands of patients who fall in hospitals every year sustain an injury. Each injury adds an average of 6.3 days to the patient’s hospital stay.

Fortunately, falls are preventable. One way is through getting the proper nutrition as well as enough nutrition. According to a recent study, malnourished inpatients were nearly eight times more likely to have a harmful fall than those not malnourished, independent of age and BMI.

Here are some ways nutrition can help prevent falls:

Eat a protein-rich diet.

Protein is essential for preserving bone and muscle mass as a person ages. Seniors with decreased protein intake are more vulnerable to muscle weakness, sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass), and frailty—all of which increase the risk of falling.

A recent study investigated the protein intake of 11,680 adults aged 51 and older. Researchers looked at the link between their protein intake, dietary patterns, and physical function. Overall, their analysis found that up to 46 percent of the oldest participants did not consume enough protein regularly.

Protein-rich foods include dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Vegetable sources of protein include legumes, tofu, grains, nuts, and seeds.

Get enough calcium and vitamin D.

Calcium and vitamin D work together to protect the bones. Calcium helps build and maintain bones, while vitamin D helps the body effectively absorb calcium.

A lack of calcium throughout life can contribute to osteoporosis, a disease that causes the bones to become weak and brittle. A fall or even mild stresses like bending over or coughing can cause a fracture. According to the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation, 54 million Americans have osteoporosis. About one in two women and up to one in four men over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. The disease causes an estimated two million broken bones every year.

Good sources of calcium include dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, bony fish, and calcium-fortified foods and beverages. Vitamin D is found in foods like fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil.

Drink plenty of fluids. Individuals should aim for 6-8 glasses of non-alcoholic liquids a day, as dehydration can cause dizziness, lack of coordination, and confusion, which can all cause falls. Sometimes people can become dehydrated without realizing it—such as when the weather is warm, if they’re taking diuretics (“water pills”) or other medications, or if they have a specific condition like diabetes. Individuals also tend to lose body water as they age.

Get enough iron or B vitamins to prevent anemia. Anemia (low iron and possibly low vitamin B12) in older adults is associated with muscle weakness, dizziness, and fatigue and is a treatable risk factor for the prevention of falls and fractures.

One research study showed elderly people who are anemic have a higher risk for injuries from falls, such as fractures or head injuries. Researchers found there was a trend of increasing risk of falls with decreasing hemoglobin numbers in the elderly. Those with anemia had a 57% increased chance of an injurious fall if their hemoglobin was less than 10 g/dL compared with those who weren’t anemic.

Iron-packed foods include dark-green leafy vegetables, legumes, seeds, red meat, shellfish, fish, and eggs. Foods that are high in vitamin B12 include clams, fish, crab, low-fat beef, fortified cereal, fortified soymilk, fortified tofu, low-fat dairy, cheese, and eggs.

Learn more about Mom’s Meals and how we can help individuals get the nutrition they need to stay healthy. We provide choice in what our customers eat along with menus to support the unique needs of most common chronic conditions.

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