New Guidelines Recommend Vitamin D To Prevent Falls In The Elderly

By Amir Khan on May 30, 2012 10:38 AM EDT

Drugs
Taking vitamin D could help prevent falls in the elderly, according to new guidelines by the USPTF. (Photo: Flickr.com/MagineArt.com)

Vitamin D supplements should be taken to prevent falls in the elderly, according to a new study by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The new recommendations by the USPTF are the first update to the guidelines on how to reduce falls since 1996.

Falling is "a common problem and it's often overlooked because doctors may not be aware of their patients' fall risk," Dr. Albert Siu, vice co-chair of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force  and a professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told Reuters. "By asking about falls and by observing the patient in terms of walking, we might be able to asses who might be at risk and who can benefit from preventive measures."

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Falls are the leading cause of injury among older adults, according to the study. Between 30 and 40 percent of people aged 65 or older fall at least once a year, and 10 percent of those people will suffer a serious injury, such as a hip fracture, from the fall.

"Even if they don't result in a serious injury or bone fracture, falls in the elderly can be disastrous," Dr. Marvin Lipman, Consumer Reports chief medical adviser, said in a Consumer Reports statement. "The emotional trauma can be significant with resultant insecurity, fear of being alone, personality changes, depression, and resistance to accepting necessary mechanical or personal assistance."

Researchers found that vitamin D supplements reduced the falling rate by as much as 17 percent. The USPTF recommends taking 800 IUs of vitamin D per day for a year to see if there is any benefit.

In 2009, 2.2 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults were treated in emergency departments and more than 581,000 of these patients were hospitalized, according to MedPage Today. In 2000, direct medical costs of falls totaled a little over $19 billion -- $179 million for fatal falls and $19 billion for nonfatal fall injuries, the website says.

The researchers also recommend exercise or physical therapy to reduce the risk even further. One person out of every 16 who participate in an exercise regimen will be spared a fall, they said. The trick is to find a regimen you like and that works for you.

"I know from experience, if you recommend something someone had very little interest in, it's not going to get done," Siu told Reuters.

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