Steps to reduce a common health threat to seniors

Falls are a common cause of serious injuries in people age 65 and over.

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Nearly 30 percent of older adults report falling down at least once in the past year, and that number jumps even higher when seniors have severe vision impairment, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data highlights the need for more interventions to reduce the risk of falling, researchers say.

Falls are a leading cause of injuries in older adults, sending more than 700,000 seniors to the hospital each year. Head trauma, hip fractures and other consequences of a fall can result in long-term disability or premature death.

The CDC report, published today, included more than 140,000 adults aged 65 and older from across the country. The researchers looked at participants with severe vision impairment and compared their fall rate to those with good eyesight.

Overall, 6.7 percent of seniors in the study reported severe vision impairment. Among this group, about 47 percent reported a fall in the previous year, compared to 28 percent of those who did not report vision impairment.

The authors note that approximately 2.8 million older adults in the U.S. have severe vision impairment, a condition associated with chronic diseases, depression, and social isolation, in addition to upping the risk of falls.

They said the results highlight the need for states to develop fall prevention strategies for older adults, especially for those with vision problems.

"The consistently high prevalence of falls among older persons with severe vision impairment suggests the need for all states to implement evidence-based fall reduction interventions specifically targeted to the needs of persons with severe vision impairment as well as to improve methods to prevent vision impairment," the authors write. "This approach might lead to fewer injuries, higher quality of life, and greater independence among older adults, as well as reduced health care costs."

Safety steps

Dr. Matthew Hepinstall, an orthopaedic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital Center for Joint Preservation and Reconstruction in New York City, said there are very easy steps older adults and their families can take to protect themselves and their loved ones.

"These results support longstanding recommendations for eye exams and treatment of any problems diagnosed for fall prevention," he told CBS News. "Important measures in the home include eliminating throw rugs and using night lights to create a well-lit and uncluttered path to the bathroom."

He also typically recommends low-impact exercise, such as Tai Chi, to improve balance, strength and coordination to his patients.

"Calcium and vitamin D supplementation may be helpful for maintaining bone density and there is significant evidence that supplementing with vitamin D reduces fall risk," he added.

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