Researchers from Trinity College Dublin have identified a sharp increase in falls after the age of 40—particularly among women—suggesting that middle age may be a critical life stage for interventions designed to prevent falls.

Their study, published recently in PLOS ONE, drew on data from TILDA (the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing) as well as data from similar studies in Australia, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. Participants included 19,207 men and women aged between 40 and 64 years.

According to the data, for women the prevalence of falls increases from the age of 40 on: 9% in 40- to 44-year-olds, 19% in 45- to 49-year-olds, 21% in 50- to 54-year-olds, 27% in 55- to 59-year-olds, and 30% in 60- to 64-year-olds.

“Researchers and doctors have always assumed that falls are a problem that only affects people above the age of 65. This study shows that the prevalence of falls is already quite high from the age of 50,” says Dr Geeske Peeters, Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health at the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity and the study’s lead author, in a media release from Trinity College Dublin.

“In fact, our research shows that there is a sharp increase in the prevalence of falls in women during midlife. This occurs at a time that we also see an increase in the prevalence of common risk factors for falls, such as balance problems, diabetes, and arthritis.”

Recommended strategies for the prevention of falls in older adults are insufficiently effective, according to the authors. Previous research shows that, in theory, exercise may reduce the rate of falls by up to 32% and assessment and treatment of risk factors may reduce the rate of falls by up to 24%. However, hospital injury records show that the number of injuries from falls which require medical care continue to rise, the release explains.

“Current prevention strategies basically wait until people have developed risk factors and then try to make them go away. It may be better and more effective to prevent the risk factors, or to detect them at an early stage to reduce their consequences, particularly falls,” Peeters continues.

The timing of the increases in falls coincides with the onset of the menopause, decline in balance performance, and increase in the presence of vertigo and fainting, per the release.

“A better understanding of the factors that drive this increase in fall risk in middle age may be the key to effective prevention interventions earlier in life with potential benefits into older age. Further research should help us design the most appropriate strategies to prevent falls at this critical juncture in a person’s life,” Peeters concludes.

[Source(s): Trinity College Dublin, Science Daily]