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Johns Hopkins Health - Watch Your Step

Spring 2016
Issue No. 32

Watch Your Step

Date: April 15, 2016


Cancer, heart disease and dementia are commonly cited as the big health fears of aging. But injuries that occur from falls—even a simple trip—deserve more of our attention. “Falls can have catastrophic consequences, especially for the elderly,” says Yuri Agrawal, M.D., a vestibular specialist who has focused much of her work on reducing patients’ risk of falling. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three people age 65 or older fall each year. In fact, falls are the most common cause of trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.

Fortunately, there are simple strategies “to maintain postural control and balance that start to degrade as you age,” says Agrawal, who is studying the relationship between loss of sensory systems and declining balance.

  • Stay on top of vision changes. They’re a common cause of trips and falls.
  • Review prescriptions. Any medication that might make you sleepy puts you at a greater risk of falling, as does taking four or more medications in a day.
  • Take care around the house. Common fall hazards include step stools, unsecured cords, throw rugs, poor lighting and clutter.
  • Improve balance with exercise. Agrawal recommends tai chi, because “it trains the muscles of your feet and your sensory system to help you stand without external support.”
  • Safeguard your bone health. Daily walks and other weight-bearing exercise help to maintain bone density and improve muscle mass, as does taking a vitamin D supplement. “Stronger muscles help prevent falls,” she says.


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