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Two Drinks Too Many for Older Adults, Affects Walking

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2010-09-23 12:03

We have all heard the warning, “Don’t drink and drive,” but how about “Don’t drink and walk”? A new study found that healthy older adults who had two drinks had difficulty walking, which increased their risk of falling.

Two Alcoholic Drinks Can Impair Walking Ability

Although consuming two alcoholic drinks is considered a moderate amount and is lower than the current legal limit for driving, it can impair response time and the ability to avoid obstacles while walking in older adults. Researchers reached this conclusion when they tested 13 healthy adults in their early sixties after they consumed two vodka and orange drinks.

The study participants began the test by walking on a treadmill at a steady pace. A small wooden obstacle placed at the end of the belt moved toward the subjects, and they had to avoid it. Judith Hegeman, of Saint Maartens Hospital in The Netherlands, noted that after the subjects had consumed their drinks, “obstacles were hit twice as often, response times were delayed and response amplitudes were reduced.”

These difficulties occurred even though the alcohol levels of the participants were considered to be safe for driving. Yet while there are established legal and considered safe limits associated with alcohol consumption and driving, there are none established for walking.

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Each year, approximately one-third of adults age 65 and older falls, often resulting in moderate to severe injuries, including hip fractures and head trauma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 18,000 older adults died from unintentional fall injuries in 2007, and 2.1 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults were treated in 2008 in emergency departments.

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