Brain is to Blame for the Elderly Falling

July 8, 2010

Understanding why senior citizens fall can help you prevent an accident.

Many of us take walking for granted, forgetting that it is a complex marriage of motor skills, cognitive function, and sensory control. Slips and falls are a real concern to senior citizens as their everyday mobility decreases. Two new studies outline additional factors that contribute to a fall: rigid blood vessels in the brain, poor gait, and the fear of falling.

Harvard University found that decreased flexibility in the brain’s blood vessels (vasoreactivity) can increase the risk of falls.  Oxygen and glucose are deprived to the brain if the vessels are too stiff to properly dilate.  This abnormality can result in a tumble because it decreases both cognitive and motor abilities.

They also found that gait – each individual’s walking pattern – is significantly compromised after age 65.  Only 18 percent of those in their 80s have a healthy gait, compared to the 85 percent of 65-year-olds that do. Those with poor gaits also have slower vasoreactivity, increasing their risk for a fall by 70 percent.

Just the thought of falling can also cause a slip. The Neurological Hospital and Health Center of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany found that while sensory deficiencies, medications, and neurodegeneration are common culprits, “mobility is often restricted still further by the fear of falling.”

Senior citizens who are anxious about falling will typically walk very slow and wide (as if on ice) or feel uncomfortable without holding on to something.  This change in gait is common in unfamiliar public places and the shift in body movement could literally throw someone off balance.

Facility managers can help reduce the chance of someone falling by making sure their buildings are as worry- and risk-free as possible.  Proper and proactive maintenance, marked inclined, handrails, and identifying risks are all simple steps to preventing a fall.

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