Sunday, November 08, 2009

Fear of Falling

In the Times biz section this weekend, there's an interesting article about studies being done to decrease the incidence of old people falling down, which is estimated to cost $75 billion a year in the US (a decidedly non-trivial ~0.5% of GDP). Good and innovative work is being done in the field, to be sure. But I have to wonder how much effort is being taken to provide long-term preventative approaches to help older people develop better senses of balance: I'm thinking of Tai Chi or Yoga specifically geared towards 50-60-70 year olds.

I also have to wonder about the relative incidence of injuries on wood floors vs. wall-to-wall carpet. The latter would seem to have an advantage once you've fallen, but would its unevenness encourage falls? Or is moving from wood floors to individual rugs and back again the greater risk? One can imagine having suitability standards for floor covering salespeople, as is the case for financial advisors etc., who have a fiduciary duty to inform clients of risks associated with products (high-flying stocks, variable annuities, etc).


Anonymous said...

One can think of carpets and uneven flooring chasing the human herd, consuming the weak and unsteady in a Darwinian struggle for survival. Since man alone has the uncanny ability to so dramatically modify his environment, he attaches personal helium-filled zeppelins to the equilibrium-challenged elderly. Voila, problem-solved. Grandchildren might even take balloon rides if a little additional helium is used. And you could advise your clients to quickly buy stock in helium producers and balloon manufacturers. It would not be as smashing a success as enhancement cream, but it might be close.

Mark said...

Astute observations, to be sure. Some comments from the medical field: 1. More & more one sees the growth of "Falls Clinics," particularly in academic centers where data is being collected on the efficacy of various interventions. 2. Some of these interventions do indeed focus on balance strengthening for the elderly. 3. The greater risk tends to be in the transition between surfaces with rugs presenting challenges. Electrical cords and other things on the floor contribute to falls. Some physical therapists and occupational therapists will actually go to homes for evaluation to minimize fall risks. 4. Worsening eyesight that comes with age, low vitamin levels, macular degeneration -- can all diminish visual acuity and this can increase falls. 5. By far the biggest culprit in Falls is polypharmacy-- the average 75 year old in America takes godawful numbers of meds and these can often interact to cause falls. 6. Diabetes and its associated peripheral neuropathy can be a huge contributor as well. This is just the tip of the iceberg! The main point being, a lot is known about this subject!!