Seniors and COVID: What Is the Future of Fall-Risk?
COVID-19 and Falls
As discussed in our last blog about the effects of COVID-19 on seniors, one of the consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic is an increased risk of falls and fall-related injuries.
Since early 2020, people around the world have been asked to reduce their movements; lock downs, quarantines, and fear have all affected the behavior and activity of individuals, especially of older adults who are among those at greatest risk for severe illness caused by COVID-19. “Although quarantine is a measure to protect older adults from COVID-19, staying at home can lead to negative consequences such as reduced physical activity and sedentary behavior.”
Researchers agree that not only is inactivity one of the risk factors leading to falls, but it “may increase and exacerbate the risk of disabilities”. A loss of muscle strength- due to a sedentary or inactive lifestyle - may lead to a loss of function, resulting in a higher level of frailty, “which intensifies the risk of falling.”
Social isolation during the pandemic may also contribute to an increase in severity of injuries resulting from falls. Isolated seniors who experience a fall may not receive necessary, rapid healthcare, aggravating their injuries and putting them at greater risk for death or disability as a result.
Many experts “hypothesize that in the coming months and years there will be a substantial increase in the number of falls in older adults as consequences of less physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic”. They expect that increased fall incidents will result in higher deaths and disabilities among the older adult population.
So, what can be done?
Moving Forward From COVID-19
The number one thing that can be done to mitigate the foreseen increase in fall-risk and falls is to stay active. Physical activity can significantly reduce falls with one 2018 meta-analysis publishing that “physical exercise interventions have the potential to reduce fall rate and risk in healthy older adults” by up to 32%.
Exercises using strength, balance, mobility, and perturbation training paradigms to counteract the decline of motor performance are recommended for the prevention of falls, as they “target age-related strength deficits and impaired stability control.” Tai Chi is specifically cited as beneficial in the literature.
It is paramount for seniors to stay as safe as possible in the ongoing months of the pandemic. Luckily, there are many ways for seniors to stay active from home. Walking is one of the simplest ways to stay active and mobile.
For those that walking outside is not a safe or viable option, there are also many online resources to help seniors stay active at home. Home-based exercises offer several health benefits and are “a very interesting alternative for older adults who are isolated or for those who are afraid to go outside of the home”.
The effects of COVID-19 will be felt long-term, even after the threat of the pandemic has subsided. It is important to take proactive steps to manage and maintain the health of older adults to ensure healthy aging and to avoid secondary health crises.
Resources to Help Keep Seniors Active at Home
Covenant Health’s List of Free and For-Fee Senior-Save Activities
Exercise is Medicine’s Staying Active During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Government of Canada’s Resources for Seniors and Their Caregivers
National Council on Active Aging Encouraging older adults to stay active and safe during the coronavirus pandemic