Health: Prevention key to keeping elderly healthy

By Debbie Bell and Hannah Keeler/Franklin County Health Department, Published:

The elderly population in the United States is increasing rapidly. By 2030, the number of those 65 or older will more than double to approximately 71 million.

The rapidly increasing number of older Americans has far-reaching implications for our nation’s public health system and will place unprecedented demands on the provision of health care and aging-related services. Public health efforts to promote health and functional independence are critical strategies in helping older adults stay healthy. 

Research has shown that poor health does not have to be an inevitable consequence of aging. Older adults who practice healthy behaviors are more likely to remain healthy, live independently and incur fewer health-related costs. An essential component to keeping older adults healthy is preventing chronic diseases and reducing associated complications.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that about 80 percent of older adults have one chronic condition, and 50 percent have at least two. Infectious diseases (such as influenza and pneumococcal disease) and injuries also take a disproportionate toll on older adults. Efforts to identify strategies to prevent or reduce the risk of disease and injury and to widely apply effective interventions must be pursued.

Older adult falls prevention can save lives and keep an older adult self-sufficient in his or her home longer. According to the CDC one in three adults 65 and older fall.

Preventing falls vital

In 2012 in Franklin County, there were 75 hospitalizations from falls in the 65-and-over age group. These hospitalizations resulted in an average charge of $37,921. Fortunately, falls among older adults are preventable.

Falls may occur for a variety of reasons, one of which is lack of exercise.  The CDC states that, “physical activity is essential to healthy aging.” For important health benefits it is recommended that older adults need at least:

>150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week;

>Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

>Or, 150 minutes each week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and weight training muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.

Vision problems

Vision problems are another common cause of falls among older adults.  In an article from the American Family Physician, it was reported that approximately one person in three has some form of vision-reducing eye disease by the age of 65. 

The most common causes of vision loss among the elderly are age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.

Chronic diseases like osteoporosis, heart disease and diabetes can also increase risk of falling. Osteoporosis is a disease linked to bone loss that can greatly impact a fall and the level of injury because of the brittle bones caused by this disease.

Prevention strategies are also key for osteoporosis and involve some of the same prevention efforts as falls prevention. Eating a healthy diet and exercising on a regular basis will assist in maintaining your bone health and strengthening muscle mass, which supports the body’s frame. 

Medication reactions and hazards within the home round out the list of the top culprits for falls in individuals 65 and older.   

If you have any questions related to older adult falls prevention and osteoporosis, contact the Franklin County Health Department at 502-564-5559 or Hannah Keeler, Kentucky Safe Aging Coalition Coordinator at HannahKeeler@uky.edu or 859-323-4747. 

Reference: Data source: Kentucky inpatient hospitalization visit data (2010-2012 provisional), Office of Health Policy, Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center.

Submitted by Debbie Bell and Hannah Keeler. Bell is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in health education at the Franklin County Health Department, 851 East-West Connector, Frankfort. Keeler is the Kentucky Safe Aging Coalition Coordinator for the Kentucky Department for Public Health, 275 East Main St.

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