Accidental falls and fall injuries represent a serious health risk for people over the age of 65, but not necessarily everyone. There are plenty of retirees running half marathons and outrunning people half their age. Nevertheless, 38% of people over the age of 65 experience an accidental fall every year. Fall injuries can result. Seniors who know they have a risk of falling start doing less and socializing less. It is common for retirees to want to stay quiet about their fall risk, but the best strategy for preserving safety, ability, and independence is to meet the challenge head on.
The Timed-Up-and-Go-Test has been a standard for assessing fall risk. In this test, a person starts seated, rises from the chair, walks ten meters, turns around, walks back, and sits down again, all while being timed. In a study recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, Laura Viccaro and colleagues demonstrated that simply measuring the time it takes to walk four meters can predict fall risk as well as the Timed-Up-And-Go Test.
Below we list the walking speed and correlating fall risk. This applies to anyone over the age of 65 who has experienced an accidental fall in the past.
- Four meters in 2 seconds: normal risk (38% chance of an accidental fall)
- Four meters in 2.4 to 4 seconds: high risk (57% chance of an accidental fall)
- Four meters in 4.1 seconds or more: very high risk (93% chance of an accidental fall)
In short, anyone over the age of 65, who has experienced an accidental fall in the past, and who needs longer than 2.4 seconds to walk four meters is at a high risk for an accidental fall again in the next year. A physical therapy program can work to provide improved gait and safety to protect the health, independence, and happiness of retirees.
Viccaro L, Perera S, Studenski S. Is timed up and go better than gait speed in predicting health, function, and falls in older adults? J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011: 59 (5): 887-892.