No link between elderly physical activity and hospital falls, study finds

Elderly hospital patients who suffer falls within the facility move around no more than patients who do not fall, according to a new pilot study from University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which suggests efforts to reduce patient mobility do nothing to prevent falls.

Researchers analyzed the mobility patterns of a small group of elderly patients fitted with electronic devices that counted every step taken.

“We matched 10 patients who had fallen with 25 who had not fallen based on age, gender, reason for admission, illness severity and mobility status before admission,” said UTMB assistant professor Steven Fisher, lead author of a paper on the study now online in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

“All of these people had worn step activity monitors during their stay in the hospital, and when we analyzed the data from these devices we found no statistical difference in the amount of walking between the groups,” Fisher said.

The researchers defined hospital falls as a “complex issue” with a variety of factors responsible for their occurrence. “In our study, for example, we found that cognition was a big factor—patients suffering from delirium were more likely to fall,” Fisher said.

The hospital environment itself was also listed as a potential contributor to falls. All of the falls noted in the study took place at night, and 60 percent of them were related to visits to the bathroom.

While the researchers admitted it is not possible to eliminate older patient falls, they did suggest that small amounts of active mobility can be beneficial toward preventing them.

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