The guidelines were developed by a panel including members from previous panels, as well as experts in areas such as geriatrics, physical therapy, orthopedics, emergency medicine, occupational therapy, nursing and pharmacy. To come up with the new guidelines panelists reviewed the medical literature on fall prevention published between May 2001 and July 2009.

“The main thing is that these guidelines were developed by a panel of experts who scoured the literature and scientific information to find guidelines based in science,” says Dr. Brangman. “We knew things anecdotally, but these guidelines have evidence behind them.”

Within the new guidelines are recommendations for intervention that include:

  • an exercise component that combines balance and strength training, such as tai chi or physical therapy.
  • cataract surgery when needed (but only in conjunction with other interventions).
  • medication reduction or withdrawal, especially drugs that affect the central nervous system, such as sleep medications and antidepressants.
  • appropriate management of heart rate and rhythm abnormalities, and orthostatic hypotension.
  • a daily 800 IU vitamin D supplement.

“The new guidelines are not all doctor-oriented,” says Dr. Brangman. “They have practical pieces that people can carry out on own: finding safer shoes, removing clutter in your home, clearing off stairs and installing handrails in bathrooms and on steps.”

But the interventions must be followed. “It really made a difference in how carefully all the interventions were carried out,” says Dr. Tinetti. “It’s important not just to say that something needed to be done, but to do it.”