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Falls and nutrition - Stay On Your Feet

Why is nutrition a risk factor?

 Icon showing nutrition information

Nutrition is an important factor in falls prevention, as frailty results from a loss of muscle mass and strength, neuromuscular impairment, immobilisation and malnutrition.

There is growing evidence that a number of older people are undernourished or malnourished, which negatively impacts their ability to function independently. It is estimated that up to 30% of people over 60 years of age living independently in the community are suffering from malnutrition. Older Australians are at risk of developing nutritional health problems due to reduced energy needs and a decreased ability to absorb nutrients 137. Their nutritional wellbeing is also affected by living alone, access to shops and dental problems 138.

Osteoporosis and nutritional deficiencies

The 1995 National Nutritional Survey found that women aged 65 years and older consumed only 68% of the recommended dietary intake for calcium 138. The lack of calcium is strongly associated with osteoporosis, and insufficient vitamin D also reduces calcium absorption 138. A small pilot study conducted among 126 healthy adults aged between 18 and 87 years living in the community found that 42.5% of the sample in Brisbane had deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D 139. A meta-analysis of vitamin D and calcium supplementation found evidence to support the preventative treatment of osteoporosis in people aged 50 years and older 141. Vitamin D and calcium are also useful in managing muscle wasting 125. In addition, Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to increased postural sway and impaired physical function 71.

Nutrition and physical activity

Adequate nutrition goes hand in hand with promoting physical activity 125, as participants in physical activity must have an adequate nutrition status.

What works

  • Nutrition screening on admission to hospital or residential aged care facilities
  • Sufficient intake of calcium and vitamin D, by encouraging correct diets, ensuring minimum sun exposure
  • Osteoporosis screening

Who can help older people with nutrition?

Screening tools

  • Nutritional assessment by a medical practitioner

Research on falls and nutrition

Resources related to nutrition for older people

To find out more about risk factors

For more in-depth information about falls risk factors, risk awareness, risk screening and assessment methods, refer to the Queensland Stay On Your Feet® Community Good Practice Guidelines.

Last updated: 18 July 2012