7 tips to maintain healthy bones and prevent falls

Excerpt: Osteoporosis affects two million Canadians and 4 out of 5 injury hospitalizations among seniors are due to falls. Improving balance through tai chi and dancing, doing regular weight-bearing and resistance exercises, and getting enough calcium, vitamin D and protein through diet and supplements can strengthen bones and help prevent falls. Checking vision and hearing regularly, wearing sensible footwear, and using appropriate mobility aids can also reduce the risk of falls.

November is Osteoporosis Month* and Fall Prevention Month.* Osteoporosis affects 2 million Canadians and fractures from osteoporosis are more common than heart attack, stroke, and breast cancer combined,* according to Osteoporosis Canada.

In Canada, 4 out of 5 injury hospitalizations involving older adults were because of a fall,* reported the Canadian Institute for Health information. Falls are also the leading cause of injury deaths, emergency department visits and disability for Canadians aged 65 and older,* according to Parachute Canada, a national charity dedicated to injury prevention.

Fortunately, there are many strategies and steps older adults can take to support bone health and prevent falls:

  1. Improve balance and lower body strength. Practicing tai chi and doing dance-based activities, such as folk or ballroom dancing, improves balance, mobility, and lower body strength and reduces the risk of falls,* according to McMaster University.
  2. Do regular weight-bearing exercise. Weight-bearing aerobic activities, such as walking, low-impact aerobics, stair climbing and gardening, work directly on your bones to slow mineral loss,* advises Mayo Clinic. Using resistance bands or your own body weight for strength training—with guidance from a qualified instructor—can help to maintain bone density.*
  3. Nourish your bones. If you eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and lean protein, you’ll get most nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, protein, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, needed to keep your bones healthy,* advises Harvard Medical School. But it’s especially important to get an adequate intake of calcium, vitamin D and protein through diet and supplements, if needed, with aging.
  4. Check vision and hearing regularly. Get regular hearing and vision tests, and wear appropriate glasses and hearing aids, if needed,* says Health Canada. A Mount Sinai School of Medicine study found that impaired hearing increases the risk of falls because a lack of sound, or poor sound perception, affects balance.* People with impaired vision have considerable anxiety about falling and a greater risk of falling,* reported a Scientific Reports study.
  5. Wear sensible shoes. Wear properly fitting, sturdy flat shoes with nonskid soles. High heels, floppy slippers, and shoes with slick soles can make people slip, stumble and fall, as can walking in stocking feet.*
  6. Review medications for side effects. Certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs may have side effects, such as dizziness, disorientation and sleepiness, that can cause people to stumble and fall.* Review medications with your doctor or pharmacist to help assess their benefits and risks; they may consider weaning you off medications that are no longer required or may increase your risk of falling.*
  7. Use appropriate mobility aids. For some older adults, a healthcare provider may recommend using a cane or walker to keep steady. Handrails on stairways, non-slip treads for wood steps, a raised toilet seat, and grab bars for the shower or tub can also help prevent falls.*

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

  1. Osteoporosis Canada. “November is Osteoporosis Month. Break myths. Not bones.” (2022), online: https://osteoporosis.ca/break-myths-not-bones/
  2. Parachute Canada. “Fall Prevention Month.” (2022), online: https://www.fallpreventionmonth.ca/
  3. Osteoporosis Canada. “What is osteoporosis?” (2022), online: https://osteoporosis.ca/what-is-osteoporosis/
  4. Canadian Institute for Health Information. (2022), online: Slips, trips and falls: Our newest data reveals causes of injury hospitalizations and ER visits in Canada | CIHI
  5. Parachute Canada. (2022), online: https://www.fallpreventionmonth.ca/uploads/2021%20toolkit/Promotional%20Materials/Fact%20Bank/FPM%20Fact%20Bank%202021%20EN.pdf
  6. McMaster University. “’Dancing’ our way to fewer falls and better physical function?” (2021), online: https://www.mcmasteroptimalaging.org/blog/detail/blog/2021/05/13/dancing-our-way-to-fewer-falls-and-better-physical-function#:~:text=First%2C%20dance-based%20mind-motor%20activities%20may%20reduce%20the%20risk,falls%20%28a.k.a.%20the%20number%20of%20falls%29%20by%2031%25.
  7. Mayo Clinic. “Exercising with osteoporosis: Stay active the safe way.” (2021), online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoporosis/in-depth/osteoporosis/art-20044989
  8. Harvard Medical School. “Essential nutrients your body needs for building gone.” (2022), online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/essential-nutrients-your-body-needs-for-building-bone#:~:text=By%20Heidi%20Godman%2C%20Executive%20Editor%2C%20Harvard%20Health%20Letter,calcium%2C%20vitamin%20D%2C%20protein%2C%20magnesium%2C%20phosphorous%2C%20and%20potassium.
  9. Health Canada. “Seniors and aging – preventing falls in and around your home.” (2006), online: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/healthy-living/your-health/lifestyles/seniors-aging-preventing-falls-around-your-home.html
  10. Science Daily. “Sound can directly affect balance and lead to risk of falling.” (2020), online: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200312142303.htm
  11. Science Daily. “Poor sight causes people to overstep the mark.” (2019), online: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191217141547.htm
  12. Mayo Clinic. “Fall prevention: simple tips to prevent falls.” (2022), online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/fall-prevention/art-20047358
  13. McMaster University. “Avoid falls with these 4 simple tips.” (2020), online: https://www.mcmasteroptimalaging.org/blog/detail/blog/2017/05/30/avoid-falls-with-these-3-simple-tips