Diabetic nursing home residents are much more likely to have dangerous falls than those who do not have diabetes. researchers report.

The Research

A study of 139 residents at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in Riverdale, New York, found that 78% of those who had diabetes fell during the 299-day study period, compared with 30% of residents who were not diabetic.

"Our study clearly indicated that nursing homes, assisted living facilities and others that care for the elderly should consider diabetes a significant risk factor for falling," says researcher Dr. Mathew S. Maurer, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and director of the Clinical Cardiovascular Research Laboratory for the Elderly at New York Presbyterian/The Allen Pavilion.

Reducing The Risk

"In an era of limited resources, knowing that diabetics are more likely to fall may facilitate identifying older individuals who are likely to benefit from interventions aimed at reducing falls and their consequences," Maurer says.

He says diabetics may be at an increased risk of falling due to problems with the peripheral nerves that affect sensation in the feet.

"We will now add diabetes to the list of risk factors for falling and expect this to become standard practice," says Dr. Robert Zorowilz, chief medical officer of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale. "By controlling diabetes, addressing the complications it causes and being vigilant about the other factors that contribute to falls, we may substantially reduce the risk."

Falling is the leading cause of accidental death among elderly people in the United States. Previous studies identified gait or balance disorders, vision impairment and medications as risk factors for falls among frail elderly nursing home residents. However, diabetes has not been recognized as an important risk factor.

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