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Can Exercise Programs Prevent Falls?

The Effects of Physical Activity Intervention on Older Americans

This article was originally published in the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine News Center

About 30 percent of community-living older men and women fall each year, and 20 to 30 percent of those who fall experience moderate or severe injury from their falls. In a recent clinical trial co-led by Northwestern Medicine scientist Mary McDermott, MD, Jeremiah Stamler Professor of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, investigators explored ways to preserve the ability to walk in older adults, related cognitive decline and fall injuries.

While the study successfully achieved its primary objective – to decrease risk of mobility disability among participants – the team noted that an intervention to increase physical activity in sedentary older men and women did not prevent serious fall injuries.

“The costs to society of these fall-related injuries are high,” said Dr. McDermott. “Fall-related injury is associated with a high rate of subsequent disability, so identifying interventions that can prevent falling in older men and women is important.”

The multi-center randomized trial study included about 1,600 men and women 70 to 89 years old who had functional limitations in areas like balance, walking and leg strength. Though the physical activity intervention, which consisted of regular walking plus strength, flexibility and balance training exercises, did not reduce fall injuries overall, when analyzing the sexes separately, the team found evidence that the intervention may reduce falls for men.

Dr. McDermott and her team are now exploring whether a medication and supplement can reduce inflammation and prevent mobility loss in older adults.

Mary McGrae McDermott, MD
Mary McGrae McDermott, MD
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