Fri, Mar 30, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Falls among elderly growing in number

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

The nation's elderly should watch their step, as a comparison of statistics from 2005 and 1999 shows that accidental falls are on the rise.

Falls are the second largest cause of accidental death for elderly Taiwanese, second only to traffic deaths, according to Bureau of Health figures.

A 1999 survey of 2,890 persons above the age of 65 found that 18.7 percent suffered falls within a year of the survey. In 2005, the same survey, with 2,724 respondents, found that the percentage had risen to 20.5.

Both surveys were sponsored by the bureau.

"As our community ages, it is of ever-increasing importance to tackle the problem of falls," said National Taiwan Normal University health education professor Guo Jong-long (郭鐘隆), who participated in the survey project.

The incidence of falls increase with age, peaking at age 80 to 84.

"Before the age of 80, most falls are primarily caused by factors in one's surroundings, such as slippery floors. After the age of 80, most falls are primarily caused by an individual's physical decline, such as failing eyesight or weakened leg muscles," said Tsai Yih-jian (蔡益堅), the division chief in charge of the project at the bureau.

In order to educate the elderly on how to prevent falls, the bureau has been holding weekly exercise and education sessions in community centers for the elderly.

"There are so many slips and falls caused by the lack of handholds for those with weak leg muscles," Tsai said. "This also means that there are many strategies to combat falls, from personal alarms to night lights to more exercise to improve muscle strength and stability."

A person's quality of living can be permanently affected by a fall, Guo said.

"Not only do the elderly heal more slowly, the psychological effect of a fall can be deeply troubling to an older person, leading to increasing fear of activity and loss of independence," Guo said. "This lack of activity will subsequently cause muscle weakening, making a subsequent fall more, not less, likely."

Despite the slight rise in falls demonstrated by the surveys, Guo says the elderly in Taiwan are still a hardier and less accident-prone bunch than the elderly in many other countries because they remain connected with the rest of society

"Social interaction is correlated with physical action," he said. "Fifty percent of our elderly are considered active compared to only about 20 to 30 percent of the elderly in the US."

However, with the rise of nuclear families and the erosion of traditional values, the number of elderly living with their children's families has fallen and their status has fallen within families.

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