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Does having muscle weakness and obesity lead to falls for older women?

November 05, 2018

As our society continues to age, experts project that falls and the health complications that can come with them will also rise. In fact, about two-thirds of all hospital costs ($34 billion) are connected directly or indirectly with falls among older adults.

Falls can be especially challenging for older people who are obese and who also have sarcopenia (the medical term for a loss of muscle strength as we age). Currently, 5 percent to 13 percent of adults older than 60 have sarcopenia. Those rates may be as high as 50 percent in people 80-years-old and older.

Older adults who gain weight may increase their risk for muscle weakness and falls. Obesity is a growing epidemic: More than one-third of adults 65-years-old and older were considered obese in 2010. Having sarcopenia and obesity, or "sarcopenic obesity," is linked to a decline in your ability to function physically, and to an increased risk of fractures.

A team of researchers writing for the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggested that it is important to identify people at risk for falls related to obesity and muscle weakness so that healthcare providers can offer appropriate solutions.

To learn more about sarcopenic obesity and its effects on falls in older women, the team reviewed information from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI). The full study includes health information--like weight, muscle mass, and experiences with falls--from more than 160,000 women aged 50 to 79 who were followed for more than 15 years. The researchers looked at results for 11,020 postmenopausal women.

The researchers concluded that out of the study participants, postmenopausal Hispanic/Latina women had the highest risk of falls related to sarcopenic obesity. They also noted that postmenopausal women younger than 65 were at a higher risk for falls connected to sarcopenic obesity.

The researchers said that, as we age, many older adults will be at high risk for falls as obesity and muscle weakness also increase. Efforts to learn more about how women's bodies change after menopause will help healthcare professionals design potential solutions.
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This summary is from "The Association between Sarcopenic Obesity and Falls in a Multiethnic Cohort of Postmenopausal Women." It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Shawna Follis, MS; Alan Cook, MD; Jennifer W. Bea, PhD; Scott B. Going, PhD; Deepika Laddu, PhD; Jane A. Cauley, DrPH; Aladdin H. Shadyab, PhD; Marcia L. Stefanick, PhD; and Zhao Chen, PhD.

About the Health in Aging Foundation

This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that people are empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through HealthinAging.org. We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation's work, visit http://www.HealthinAgingFoundation.org.

About the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

Included in more than 9,000 library collections around the world, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS) highlights emerging insights on principles of aging, approaches to older patients, geriatric syndromes, geriatric psychiatry, and geriatric diseases and disorders. First published in 1953, JAGS is now one of the oldest and most impactful publications on gerontology and geriatrics, according to ISI Journal Citation Reports®. Visit wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/JGS for more details.

About the American Geriatrics Society

Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has--for 75 years--worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Its nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.

American Geriatrics Society

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