COVID pandemic may increase this health risk in older people

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In a new study from the University of Michigan, researchers found the COVID-19 pandemic may have increased older adults’ risk of falling and injuring themselves, due to changes in physical activity.

More than a third of people between the ages of 50 and 80 report their physical activity declined in the pandemic’s first 10 months, and more than a quarter say they’re in worse physical condition now than before the pandemic.

Many of these adults also reported an increased fear of falling.

Previous research has found that both reduced physical activity and fear of falling can increase future fall risk and reduce independence.

As the pandemic eases in the United States, the researchers note that better awareness of this connection could help motivate adults of any age to safely increase or maintain their physical activity—especially if they have been less active or mobile due to the pandemic.

The new report in the National Poll on Healthy Aging is based on answers from more than 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80 to a poll taken in January 2021.

The poll finds 25% of older adults experienced a fall between the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and January 2021, when the poll was conducted.

About 40% of those who experienced a fall had more than one fall during this period.

The poll also points to specific groups of older adults—women, Blacks, older adults experiencing loneliness and adults over age 65—who may need additional help to improve physical conditioning and reduce fall risk.

The researchers also found 27% of people saying their physical conditioning—flexibility, muscle strength and endurance—had worsened. Mobility—the ability to move around including with a cane, walker or vehicle—declined in 25%.

The fear of falling was experienced by 36% of respondents overall, and by nearly half of all poll respondents over age 65 (46%) and of women age 50 to 80 (44%).

Among all older adults who said they fear falling, 23% said that fear had increased during the pandemic.

But the percentage that reported increased fear of falling was much higher among those who reported less physical activity (32%), worsened physical conditioning (42%) or worsened mobility (45%).

Falls lead to the deaths of more than 32,000 older adults each year, and the number has risen steadily in recent years and is expected to continue to increase with the aging of the US population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you care about the risk of falls, please read studies about how to prevent falls when you are older and findings of these drugs may increase your risk of serious falls.

For more information about falls and your health, please see recent studies about 8 tips anyone can use to avoid a nasty fall and results showing hearing aids linked to lower risks of dementia, depression, falls.

The study findings are available in the National Poll on Healthy Aging. One author of the study is Geoffrey Hoffman, Ph.D.

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