Fall Prevention Programs Especially Important For People With Arthritis

According to a new report by the CDC, middle-aged and older adults with arthritis are significantly more likely to fall and sustain injuries than their peers who don’t have arthritis. The good news? Fall prevention programs can reduce the risk by up to a third.

Talk with any emergency room physician: falls are one of the most common incidents to send people to the ER. A fall may not sound serious, but the injuries sustained as the result of a fall can be. Stumbles and slips are the leading cause of injury-related illness and death in the United States. Especially for older adults, falls can result in hip fractures, brain injuries, and reduced functional abilities—complications that take a significant toll on quality of life.

The 22.7 percent of our adult population with arthritis are particularly vulnerable to falls. Arthritis has a negative impact on the neuromuscular function that controls our balance and walking speed. As neuromuscular function erodes, the risk of a fall increases. According to the CDC’s findings, here’s how arthritis increases risk of a fall:

  • Adults with arthritis are almost 30 percent more likely to have a fall in a one-year period compared to people without arthritis.
  • Adults with arthritis are almost two-and-a-half times more likely to have fallen at least two times or more, compared to their peers without arthritis.
  • Adults with arthritis suffer an injury due to their falls two-and-a-half times more than adults who don’t have arthritis.
  • Adults with arthritis fall more often, and when they fall, a larger percentage of them suffer serious injuries. Serious fall-related injuries can have psychological as well as physical consequences, causing people to become fearful about resuming their normal activities.

But there is good news too. If you have arthritis, there are active steps you can take to reduce your risk. Fall-prevention programs address everything from strengthening leg muscles to strategies to handle poor vision, environmental hazards, and medication side effects.

If you are looking for a single step you can take, the most effective way to reduce fall risk (by 14 to 37 percent) is an exercise program with the following three features:

  • Focus on balance.
  • Exercises that gradually become more challenging over time.
  • An ongoing commitment to exercise.

Other steps you can take to protect yourself:

  • Ask your physician or pharmacist to review your medications—prescription and over the counter—to reduce side effects and interactions.
  • Have your vision tested at least once a year.
  • Improve the lighting in your home.
  • Reduce home hazards, like slippery throw rugs, that can lead to falls.

There’s no quick fix, but people with arthritis who stick to a recommended exercise program over time and take other fall-prevention precautions will improve their strength and balance, and push back against their risk of fall-related injury.

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