Elderly can reduce risk of falls and fractures with dairy-rich diet

A diet rich in dairy reduces the incidents of falls and fractures in elderly people living in residential care, according to a new study. Scientists from the University of Melbourne and Austin Health carried out research in 60 care homes and found that increased intake of foods like milk and yoghurt lowered the risk of fractures by 33 per cent.

The two-year study compared 30 care homes where the daily calcium intake stood at 1,142 milligrams, along with 1.1 grams per kilogram of body weight of protein, to a control. This second group consumed 700 milligrams of calcium per day and 0.9 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Falls are a significant issue for the elderly, with the NHS suggesting one in three over-65s will have at least one fall a year. This proportion goes up to half in those aged 80 or over, and while many incidents don’t result in serious injury, others can have wide-reaching implications.

The most obvious issues associated with a fall are broken bones or fractures, but some elderly people lose their confidence after it happens. This can lead to individuals becoming withdrawn or becoming less independent than they had been.

Bones that are deficient in calcium and protein are weaker, making them more susceptible to injury should a fall occur. The new research looks at the effectiveness and safety of addressing this issue through diet as opposed to supplements.

A total of 4,302 falls were recorded during the study, resulting in 324 fractures. 121 of these fractures occurred in the homes where a dairy-rich diet was being consumed, compared with 203 in the control group, demonstrating a reduction in serious injuries.

Researchers said the relative risk reduction for fractures was akin to the results found in trials where strong drug therapies had been used to increase bone strength in osteoporosis patients. While randomised control trials are considered the most reliable way to assess interventions, they do still have some limitations.

Nevertheless, they pointed out that improving calcium and protein intakes by using dairy foods "is a readily accessible intervention that reduces risk of falls and fractures commonly occurring in institutionalised older adults."

Then added that this nutritional intervention "has widespread implications as a public health measure for fracture prevention in the aged care setting and potentially in the wider community".

Older people have an increased risk of falling simply because of the natural ageing process, but there are a number of conditions that can make incidents even more likely. They include vision loss, heart disease, hypotension and dementia.

Measures that can help prevent falls include ensuring rooms are not dimly lit, securing all loose carpet and avoiding placing obstacles in the way. Falls often occur when an elderly person is rushing or reaching for something.

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