Research from Monash University’s National Centre for Healthy Ageing (NCHA) has used daily step counts as a predictor of those most at risk of falling, allowing for preventative measures to be put in place before the fall occurs.

 What are the odds?

NCHA says falls are the leading cause of hospitalised injuries and injury deaths among older Australians, making up 77 percent of all injury hospitalisations and 71 percent of injury deaths in those aged 65 and over.

Worryingly, over 30 percent of the general older population falls at least once each year, an occurrence that costs the Australian hospital system over $600 million annually.

The NCHA study saw the researchers take falls history from more than 430 Tasmanians with an average age of 72, over a period of 12 months.

How do we know?

The participants, who were selected randomly from the electoral roll, completed surveys regarding the number of falls they had over the period. Participants wore the pedometer and filled out daily monitoring logs with the start and finish wear times, as well as any duration and reason for periods where the pedometer was removed (e.g., sleeping, showering, or any water-based activities).

Daily step count was measured when people entered the study using a pedometer worn consecutively for seven days, with a low daily step count defined as less than 5,000 steps a day.

The study also looked at the way cognitive, medical, and other factors such as poor muscle strength were associated with falls in those with higher versus lower levels of daily step count.

What does your step count mean?

Among people with less than 5,575 steps per day, an increased risk of falls occurred in those with poorer executive cognitive function, slower gait speed, and lower step count.

In those with greater than 5,575 steps per day, only low mood was associated with increased fall risk.

One of three researchers involved in the study, Associate Professor Callisaya says identifying those older people at the greatest risk of falling is an important healthcare priority and knowing how active people are with step counts can help towards this.

Extra risk factors

“Such people would benefit from consideration of additional risk factors such as altered cognitive function in devising strategies for prevention,” she said.

“We also found that in those who are active and taking a higher number of daily steps, the presence of a low mood increased the risk of falling. Although the reason for this is not entirely clear, in active people who fall, it may be important to assess their mood and help them manage their psychological state as best as possible.”