According to the Centers for Disease control, about 1 in 4 people aged 65 and over reported a fall last year.1 For older adults, falls can be dangerous and even deadly. The CDC reports about 34,000 Americans died in 2019 as a result of fall related injuries.2
Nutrition is likely not the first thing that comes to mind when trying to prevent falls, but it can play a critical role in maintaining good balance and reducing overall risk.
Balance requires good coordination and a strong, well hydrated body. This can become more challenging (though not impossible) as one ages.
Let’s look at some of the ways nutrition can help with fall prevention:
Strong muscles are required to maintain steadiness during movement and standing. Muscle tissue loss is a normal consequence of aging, though this loss can be somewhat minimized with regular physical activity and adequate daily intake of protein.
Older adults need a bit more protein daily than their younger counterparts do. If you’re over 60, try to get at least 1 gram per kilogram of body weight (to figure out your weight in kilograms, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.45).
Food Sources: One egg: 8 grams, 1 ounce of meat (about the size of your thumb): 7 grams, ½ cup of cooked legumes (beans, peas, lentils): 8 grams, 1 ounce cheese (1 slice): 7 grams
One of the risks of having a fall is broken bones. In the event you do fall, strong bones are more resistant to breaks. The more heavily mineralized your bones are, the stronger they are. The main mineral making up bone is calcium and adequate vitamin D is needed to help mineralize the bones.
Women over age 50 and men over age 70 should get about 1200 mg calcium daily. Men over age 50 should get about 1000 mg daily. For vitamin D, men and women over age 50 should get about 15 micrograms(mcg) daily and those over 70 should increase that to 20 mcg.
Food Sources: For calcium: 1 cup dairy milk: 300mg, 1 cup soy milk: 60 mg, 1 ounce cheese: 200 mg, ¼ c. almonds: 62 mg, 1 cup tofu (prepared with calcium): 430 mg.
There are not many food sources of Vitamin D, but humans are able to make their own vitamin D from cholesterol and exposure to sunlight. 15-30 minutes of exposure will provide the daily Vitamin D needed. Those with lighter skin need less time in sunlight than those with darker skin.
Older adults are at higher risk for dehydration than their younger counterparts. Symptoms for dehydration include weakness, dizziness, and fatigue- all of which can cause falls. It can be more difficult to detect thirst as we age, so making regular liquid consumption, especially during hot weather, is important. A quick way to determine if you are adequately hydrated is to check your urine first thing in the morning. It should be pale yellow or straw colored.
Food Sources: Fruits and vegetables are generally about 90% water. Including more of these in your diet can help keep you hydrated. Try to get at least five ½ cup servings daily.
Chronic Disease Management
Some chronic diseases, such as diabetes, have symptoms that may interfere with balance. People with poorly controlled diabetes can have complications such as nerve damage resulting in loss of feeling in the feet (neuropathy), decreased eyesight and poor circulation in the legs. These symptoms can interfere with balance and slow the reflexes needed to prevent falls.
If you have diabetes and are not in good control, discuss your treatment with your physician. Taking advantage of educational opportunities is also a good idea. The Agency on Aging offers a free Diabetes Education course (for those over 60). Come join us!