Do you think you can stand on one leg for ten seconds? Sure, it sounds easy, but grab a stopwatch, because it’s probably harder than you might guess, especially if you’re in your fifties or older. By the way, this seemingly simple feat of physical skill could save your life. Recent studies have shown that this test of balance (or lack thereof) is a reliable indicator of death among those middle aged or older. It might sound like quack medicine, but there is a very simple science behind the concept.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine published a recent report in which 1,700 individuals between the ages of 51 to 75 were studied to assess their ability to balance on one leg. The test subjects were asked to stand on one leg for ten seconds with their arms outward and their eyes looking straight ahead. They recorded observations between 2008 and 2020. The goal of the study was to determine how the results of these balance tests might compare to the incidence of fall-related deaths and other forms of death.
The study found that the ability to successfully complete the ten-second test dropped significantly as the subjects aged. Among the participants, 95% of those in their early to mid-50s succeeded compared to only 46% of subjects in their early to mid-70s. Analysis of the study found that “adults aged 51-75 who were unable to balance on one foot for ten seconds had an 84% higher risk of death than their peers who could, even after adjusting for age, sex, body mass index, and comorbidities like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.”
Falling & Mortality in Old Age
As we lose the skill and ability of balance, we are more susceptible to falls. In our youth we don’t even think about how many “close calls” we experience, where our balance saves us from slipping and falling accidents before we hit the ground. Even when we do fall, as younger people, we are less likely to experience a serious injury and more likely to make a speedy recovery. That changes as we age.
When we get older, a slippery sidewalk or that random shoe someone left on the floor can have devastating impacts. As observed in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, we drastically lose our ability to control our balance as we age, which leads to more falls. During the fall, we have slower reflexes and reaction time. So, we are less likely to brace ourselves for impact to reduce the damage. When we do make contact, our bones are more brittle and likely to break. For seniors, a broken bone can be a matter of life and death, especially due to the prevalence of hip injuries.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among adults age 65 and older, and the age-adjusted fall death rate is increasing. The age-adjusted fall death rate is 64 deaths per 100,000 older adults.”
Preventing Falls, Especially in Nursing Homes
Whether you’re living independently or in a nursing home, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of a fatal fall. If your loved one is in a nursing home, make sure the following precautions are taken:
- Improve Your Strength & Balance: If you’re physically able and your doctor approves, take the ten-second balance test to self-evaluate your risk for falling. There are several exercises that help strengthen legs and balance. Yoga and Tai Chi are also great for balance.
- Talk to Your Doctor. Ask your doctor about your risk for falling. Find out if any medications you’re taking can affect your balance. Get screened for osteoporosis to ensure your bones are healthy. Get recommendations on diet or supplements to improve bone density.
- Have Your Eyes Checked. Many falls are caused by tripping over obstacles. If your vision is failing or your lenses are not up to date, you can be at a greater risk for a fall.
- Fall-Proof the Home or Nursing Home. Make sure that there is proper lighting, and that lighting is sensor-activated or easy for seniors to engage, especially for nighttime restroom visits. Be sure to have railings for stairs, toilets, and showers. Keep walking areas free of obstacles, including unsecured rugs.
The Duty of the Nursing Home Regarding Falls
It is the legal obligation of the nursing home to provide a safe environment for residents. This includes an assessment of your loved-one’s health needs, physical limitations, and their risk of falling, and establishing a standard of care to minimize any risk of falling danger. There is also a general requirement for nursing homes to maintain facilities that are clean and free of obstacles that could contribute to dangerous falls.
Sadly, the lack of training and adequate manpower at nursing homes create a situation where far too many preventable falls happen to vulnerable residents. When preventable falling injuries and deaths do occur, there is a financial incentive for the nursing home to hide the facts of any negligence. If your loved one is the victim of a serious injury or death due to a fall in the nursing home, do not take the nursing home’s word for it. The attorneys at Brown & Barron can help you get the facts, and if negligence was involved, get you justice for your loved one. For a no-cost, no-obligation consultation, please call Brown & Barron at (410) 698-1717 or contact us online by clicking here.