More dairy leads to less falls, fractures among older adults

AARHUS, Denmark — It’s common in general for older or elderly adults to suffer accidental falls that result in serious injuries and fractures. Unfortunately, it’s an especially common occurrence among nursing home residents. Now, a new study finds the way to prevent this may be as simple as adding more dairy to your diet.

A collection of researchers from the United States, Denmark, and Australia conclude that eating more foods rich in both calcium and protein like milk, cheese, and yoghurt reduces falls and fractures among elderly adults living in residential care. Study authors say this work holds “widespread implications as a public health measure for fracture prevention.”

Many older people living in nursing homes tend to eat less-than-ideal diets, which invariably leads to weaker bones and an increased risk of falls. Most estimates show that about 30 percent of all hip fractures occur among nursing home residents.

Although this isn’t the first report to find that dairy products strengthen bones, only a small number of studies have focused on whether eating more of these foods daily contributes to a lower risk of fracture in older adults.

A menu change cut fractures by a third

With all this in mind, the research team decided to investigate if regularly reaching the recommended dietary daily amounts of both calcium (1,300 mg) and protein (1 g/kg body weight) from foods (as opposed to supplements) would indeed result in a tangible decline in both falls and resulting fractures.

The research lasted for two years and encompassed 60 care facilities in Australia looking after 7,195 residents (72% women, average age 86 years-old). Participants were generally healthy when it came to vitamin D levels, but pretty much everyone was eating far below the recommended levels of daily calcium and protein. Half of those nursing homes started giving residents much more cheese, milk, and yoghurt, while the other half stuck with their usual menus.

By the end of the tracking period, a total of 324 fractures (135 hip fractures), 4,302 falls, and 1,974 deaths had occurred. Results show nursing homes that provide more dairy have a connection to a 33-percent risk reduction for fractures of any kind. Specifically, more dairy available showed a link to a 46-percent drop in the risk for hip fractures. Researchers also found an 11-percent lower risk of falling overall.

All in all, researchers write in a media release that dairy foods are “a readily accessible intervention that reduces risk of falls and fractures commonly occurring in institutionalized older adults.”

The study is published in the British Medical Journal.

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