Tag Archives: balance

Study documents the high cost of falling for older adults

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo: Alexander Edward via Flickr

Should health providers be doing more to screen for fall risk in older adults? New research seems to indicate that fall screenings and risk prevention planning between providers and patients could save the health system millions of dollars, and possibly thousands of lives.

Falls cost the health system about $50 billion annually. It is a serious and growing public health issue, according to the study, “Medical Costs of Fatal and Nonfatal Falls in Older Adults,” by CDC researchers. Continue reading

Facts vs. opinions: Beware of false balance in your reporting

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

scalesIt is a journalist’s job to objectively and fairly represent the various perspectives on an issue, and it’s a journalist’s responsibility to report facts to represent an issue as accurately as possible.

What happens when these two ethical obligations appear to conflict? Ideally, the seasoned journalist takes a step back to assess how the facts influence the balance a story should receive. When this doesn’t happen, a story runs the risk of having false balance — something even stories relying on scientific evidence (sometimes especially stories relying on scientific evidence) can fall victim to. Continue reading

On balance: Lazar explains a little-discussed fundamental fact of aging

About Judith Graham

Judith Graham (@judith_graham), is a freelance journalist based in Denver and former topic leader on aging for AHCJ. She haswritten for the New York Times, Kaiser Health News, the Washington Post, the Journal of the American Medical Association, STAT News, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications.

It’s not easy to write well about the nitty-gritty details of aging – the wear and tear on bones and joints, the deterioration of seeing and hearing, the gradual onset of frailty in barely observable increments.

But everyone encounters this when they’ve lived long enough; physical decline is a fundamental part of the aging experience.

Judith GrahamJudith Graham (@judith_graham), AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover the many issues around our aging society.

If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to judith@healthjournalism.org.

That’s why Kay Lazar of The Boston Globe deserves kudos for her story on balance problems in older adults, a common, seemingly mundane condition that hasn’t received much attention.

The consequences can be serious: when balance is compromised, seniors become at risk of losing their mobility or falling, potentially precipitating a cascade of other medical problems.

Lazar’s explanation of why older people become unsteady on their feet is graceful and easy to understand:

“A person’s sense of balance relies on an exquisite interplay of three regions, your vision, a maze-like structure in the inner ear which includes microscopic cells that resemble little hairs, and the muscles and joints running from your feet, up through your spine, that sense your body’s position.

All three areas send signals to your brain, which processes the information, and helps give you a sense of spatial orientation – your balance.

As we age, eyesight fades, as do our muscles’ ability to sense surroundings. Meanwhile, the hair cells in the inner ear die off and do not regenerate. These declines combine to throw off the signals to your brain about your balance.”

Her description of “four flavors of dizzy” – the feeling of blacking out, unsteadiness, spinning, or lightheadness – almost surely will help older adults and their families recognize symptoms that may require medical assistance.

That’s why a story like this is valuable. By talking openly about a problem that usually passes under the radar screen, it expands our sense of alertness to older people and difficulties they may experience. It makes seniors visible, not invisible as they so often seem to others.

Next time I see an older person hesitate at a curb before stepping down or stand stiffly in a crowd, nervous about moving in tight, confined spaces, I’ll think about Lazar’s article.