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Of falls, yoga and small yippy dogs -- as they relate to older adults

March 31, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Fear isn't always protective -- sometimes it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of poor health. Yoga might help. Pets might not.

Recent research at Oregon State University suggests that older adults who are worried about their health are less likely to have active lifestyles. Such inactivity is then linked to more trouble walking. And that trouble, as we know, can make controlling weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol more difficult -- in short, creating more health worries. (Rather than belabor the benefits of exercise, we'll refer you to the Mayo Clinic's quick tutorial.)

Similarly, walking difficulties can cause a fear of falling. And less physical activity can increase the likelihood of falls. Indiana University researchers have found that some older adults who are afraid of falling can be helped by yoga. In their small study, a 12-week class ratcheted down participants' fear a bit and significantly increased their lower-body flexibility.

Perhaps greater flexibility could also increase the chances of surviving a pet-related accident unscathed. A recent CDC report has detailed the fall-related risks posed by pets, pet-walking and pet-related accessories (such as food dishes) and found that, though such injury-related accidents are rare, older people are more likely to sustain them.

(To be fair, there's no breakdown on whether small barking dogs are more likely to be the culprits, but at the moment -- because of a particularly incessant nighttime barker in the neighborhood -- I'm not inclined  to give the variety the benefit of the doubt.)

Here's the L.A. Times story, Pet-related injuries? They do happen, and the original CDC report.

... And all any of this does is provide a reason for highlighting exercise as a way to reduce falls among older Americans.

Falls are the leading cause of injury death among older adults and, in 2005, were blamed for 15,800 deaths among people 65 and older. They were also responsible for about 1.8 million emergency room visits. (More fall-related stats.)

Such falls can often begin a downward health spiral -- leading to increased disability, a loss of independence and death -- hence the well-founded fear many people have of them.

So do what you have to do to prepare yourself to get moving -- have your vision checked, get handrails or walking accessories, and don't obsess too much about fear itself. (More information -- actually useful -- on fall prevention.) And, please, watch out for the pet dish.

-- Tami Dennis