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Subclinical heart disease may cause more falls in older people

By Tauren Dyson
Subclinical heart disease may cause more falls in older people
Previous research suggests that exercise could help older people with subclinical cardiovascular disease avoid falls. File Photo by Kzenon/Shutterstock

July 10 (UPI) -- Heart damage in older adults may be leading to more falls, new research shows.

Adults around age 75 with subclinical myocardial damage and cardiac wall strain are at a higher risk of falling than those without those conditions, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. These findings suggest increasing heart health could prevent their falls from occurring within the older population.

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"Given that falls can often be fatal for older adults, greater knowledge of the factors that contribute to falls represents a significant public health priority," Stephen Juraschek, a primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and study lead author, said in a news release. "For the first time, our study shows that subclinical cardiovascular disease is itself a fall risk factor. This raises the important question of whether treatment of subclinical cardiovascular disease could help prevent falls among older adults."

These findings come from researchers who examined medical records for close to 4,000 adults at an average age of 75 with no history of cardiovascular disease, heart failure or stroke. They discovered indications of subclinical myocardial damage and cardiac wall strain were strongly and independently linked to new falls within the study group.

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Getting more physical activity could be the key to preventing myocardial damage. Previous research, including a study published in December, shows exercise can help reduce the risk of falling in older adults.

Each year, about one in four older adults in the United States falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These accidents amount to nearly $37 billion in Medicaid and Medicare spending each year.

"Our findings are informative for clinical discussions pertaining to both the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and fall interventions in older adults," Juraschek said. "Whether treatment of subclinical cardiovascular disease could help prevent falls among older adults is beyond the scope of the present study, but represents an important subject of subsequent fall prevention research. Such research has the potential to inform practitioners considering the risk and benefits of primary prevention treatments in older adults at risk for falls."

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