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Researchers Say Elderly Adults with Chronic Pain Fall More Often

Researchers say fall-related injuries are among the most common, disabling and expensive health conditions experienced by older adults

Falls among elderly one of leading causes of death

A new study in the United States shows that pain is a major factor in causing the elderly to fall. The study follows earlier research that found that falling is the major cause of injury for those over 70 and a primary cause of death for those over the age of 85.

The new study at the University of Massachusetts focused on chronic bone and joint pain for adults 70 and older. Suzanne Leveille led the research. "In our study, the most important findings were that chronic pain was associated with an increased likelihood of falling in older adults," she stated.

Fall-related injuries are among the most common, disabling and expensive health conditions experienced by older adults. Researchers say this latest study is the first to look at the complexity of pain in older adults relating specifically to falls.

"In our study about 40 percent of our population fell in the first year of the study, 55 percent of our participants fell within the 18 months of our study, over 1,000 falls were reported in our population of 749 persons aged 70 and older," Leveille said.

Leveille and her colleagues asked older adults living independently to record pain levels. They reported more than 1,000 falls over an 18 month period.

At Boston's Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, Loretta and George Slover are being tested for balance. Both are in their 70s, and both have taken falls. Loretta Slover lives with chronic joint pain. "The achiness is just very uncomfortable so that you know you are aware of it much too much no matter what else you are supposed to be doing," she said.

The researchers also found that the amount of pain is a factor.

"We found that people that had multi-site pain were particularly at risk. They had a 50 percent increased likelihood of falling over a period of 18 months, compared to their peers who had no pain," Leveille explained.

Falls in elderly are the number one cause of hospitalization due to trauma. Falls cause hip fractures, brain injuries and other outcomes. Leveille says some of these falls can be prevented. "Paying closer attention to the problems such as pain and falls could result in better health and help people to continue to live actively and independently in the community," she said.

An earlier study at Yale University showed that educating elderly patients about preventing falls and encouraging clinicians to assess the risk of falling for their elderly patients, reduced falling by 11 percent.

Loretta Slover says Leveille's study has made her more aware of pain and taking precautions. "I have come to just cherish, what I've just said, getting up in my own house from my own bed, with my own sheets, the way I like them, going down to my own kitchen, making coffee the way I like it at the time I want to do it," Slover said.

The number of people aged 60 and older are increasing throughout much of the world.

Helping the elderly maintain good health increases their quality of life and can reduce the cost of medical care needed to treat injuries from falls.