Tai Chi lessons and reduced medication should be used to prevent falls in the elderly, according to the latest thinking on tackling falls, including new guidelines for doctors, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Falls are one of the leading causes of death for old people, with over a third of over 65s and half of over 80s falling each year, leading to an estimated 14,000 people in the UK dying as a result.
Experts from the British and American Geriatrics Societies have reviewed the medical research since the last set of guidelines was published in 2001 and their updated advice recommends exercises which improve strength and balance such as the Chinese martial art Tai Chi, a form of Qigong
It also acknowledges that medications which affect the brain, such as anti-depressants and sleeping pills, are strongly linked with falls and recommends they should now no longer be prescribed or the dose reduced.
Doctors assessing the risk of falling are advised that they should now also examine feet, home safety and the fear of falling in their patients, while other recommendations include prescribing vitamin D supplements, raising low blood pressure and cataract surgery.
Andrew Harrop, director of policy and public affairs at Age UK, said: “Currently there are large variations in the quality of falls prevention services provided across the UK and it is crucial that these guidelines are put into practice to ensure that future falls are prevented.
“With research showing that programmes for improving strength and balance can reduce the risk of falls by as much as 55%, the recommendation that interventions for preventing falls should include an exercise component is particularly welcome.”