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Diabetes may increase the risk of falling in older adults. Studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between diabetes among adults over the age of 65 and the risk of falling caused by diabetic complications. According to Philips, seniors with four or more risk factors have a 78% chance of falling in comparison with 8% of seniors not displaying the same risk factors. Risk factors include peripheral neuropathy, retinopathy, and nephropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy affects 30% of the adult diabetic population and causes numbness, tingling and pain in the lower extremities, which affects gait, balance, strength, mobility and endurance. Retinopathy is a progressive disease that damages the retina in diabetics and is also the leading cause of blindness. This disease causes blurred and cloudy vision, depth and perception difficulties, as well as trouble adjusting to fluctuating lighting conditions. Nephropathy, a form of kidney disease, affects water and electrolyte balances, blood pressure and the production of red blood cells in diabetics. According to Philips, diabetics suffering of nephropathy account for 44% of all new cases of kidney diseases. Diabetes-related complications can lead to a decrease in balance, strength, mobility and endurance as well as blurred vision or trouble adjusting to fluctuating light conditions, contributing to the increased risk of falling in diabetics.

Other conditions that are not directly related to diabetes also contribute to an increased risk of falling in older adults. A condition known as the “fear of falling” is a vicious cycle that also increases the risk of falls in older adults. These adults will restrict themselves from activity to prevent themselves from falling, which essentially decreases their muscle strength and endurance, increasing their chance of falling. Polypharmacy, which is the use of multiple prescription medications by one patient, has been shown to increase the risk of falling in a person that takes more than four prescriptions. Certain types of medications, such as antidepressants, increase the risk of falling in seniors. Older adults suffering from depression may be using drugs or alcohol cope with depression, which also adds to the increased risk of falling.

Management of diabetes requires strict adherence to treatment strategies and lifestyle choices. Although it is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of falling, The American Association of Diabetes Educators has developed seven strategies that diabetic adults should follow to keep their diabetes in control and decrease their chance of fall. A major factor of keeping diabetes under control is a healthy diet, as this helps foster muscle strength and physical endurance. It is also important to stay active by walking, bicycling, or even gardening, to increase strength, endurance and balance. Diabetics should regularly monitor their blood glucose levels to assist with daily diet and exercise choices. It is imperative that patients follow their medication regimen as well as understand the warning signs and symptoms of hypo and hyperglycemic reactions, possible complications, as well as the importance of self-care management.

Healthy coping strategies can be developed by patient education and monitoring of lifestyle changes, such as proper placement of furniture and carpets, correct lighting and appropriate foot wear. Reducing other risks such as obesity, smoking, drug and alcohol use will also help keep the dangerous disease under control. Adopting these proactive methods in the lifestyles of older adult diabetics can create an improved quality of life and decrease the chance of preventable falls.


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