Diabetes and Risky Falls in Older Adults

Diabetes and insulin treatment increased the risk of injury from falling in older adults

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) For younger people, a fall rarely results in a hospital visit or a broken limb. But for older adults with diabetes, serious falls can be a threat to health.

A recent study looked at whether hospital stays due to falls were more common in people with diabetes. Researchers used data on aging adults to see who was more at risk for suffering an injury due to a fall.

They found that older people who had diabetes, especially those using insulin, were more likely to go to the hospital due to a fall.

The inability to balance while standing and poor control over blood sugar were also linked to a risk of falling.

"If you are an older adult with diabetes, monitor your blood sugar."

Rebecca Yau, MPh, of the Injury Prevention Research Center in the University of North Carolina, led the study to see if older adults with diabetes are more likely to have a serious fall.

Unintentional falls are dangerous for older people. According to the researchers, they are the leading cause of injury-related hospital stays among Americans in their seventies.

Older people who suffer from a fall can easily break bones, which can restrict movement and self-sufficiency.

Diabetes, along with poor vision, low blood sugar and use of antidepressants, has previously been linked to falls in older adults. However, this is the first study that specifically looks at older adults with diabetes and the risk of falling.

The researchers used data from the Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study, or the Health ABC Study. The Health ABC Study looked at 3,075 people ages 70 to 79 and their changes in body composition and health over an average of 10 years.

The Health ABC Study also provided information on the participants' medical conditions, physical ability and medication history.

719 participants had diabetes, and 117 treated the disease with insulin, a medication that regulates blood sugar. Two hundred and ninety-three participants had been hospitalized for an injury after an unintentional fall, 186 of whom, or 63.5 percent, suffered from a fracture.

The researchers found that 71 of the 293 participants who had been hospitalized for a fall had diabetes .

Participants without diabetes suffered serious falls 9.4 times per 1,000 person-years. Participants with diabetes who did not take insulin were hospitalized for falls 10 times per 1,000 person-years. Those with diabetes that were treated with insulin fell 16.4 times per 1,000 person-years.

Of the participants who were using insulin, one of every 16 hospitalizations was associated with an episode of low blood sugar.

Additionally, falling in the past year, poor balance while standing, and poor control of blood sugar were all associated with an increased risk of a serious fall.

The researchers concluded that older adults with diabetes, especially those who were treated with insulin, were at a higher risk of being hospitalized from falls than older adults without diabetes. 

The authors of the study suggested that improving balance and keeping blood sugar under control could reduce the risk of serious falls in older adults with diabetes.

This study was published in Diabetes Care on October 15.

The research was supported by the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Nursing, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 21, 2013
Last Updated:
October 22, 2013