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NVU Professor Tarleton Researches Role of Nutrition on Falls Risk in Older Adults

NVU Professor Emily Tarleton co-authored the just-released study Malnutrition Risk, Rurality, and Falls Among Community-Dwelling Older Adults, which was published in the January 20, 2021 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging.

The authors reviewed data collected by SASH: Support and Services at Home (Burlington, VT), which serves older adults who receive Medicare support throughout Vermont. Data collected between 2017 and 2019 indicated, that: “Independently, high malnutrition risk and rurality were associated with fall risk (p<0.001) and high malnutrition risk was associated with rurality (p<0.001). After adjusting for age, sex, and physical function, individuals with high nutrition risk had a 66% increase in the odds of falling over the next year, but rurality was not significantly associated with a new fall. Falls are associated with malnutrition risk, but the relationship between falls and rurality is less evident. Further research is needed to identify services that may best alleviate malnutrition risk in older adults and aspects of nutrition that are most protective against fall risk.”

As “any fall increases the risk of morbidity and mortality in older adults,” Tarleton said, “it’s important to study the relationship between falls risk and nutrition status. This study is supportive of the need to do more of this work.” Which is what Tarleton is focused on right now.

Tarleton, assistant professor and co-chair of the Environmental and Health Sciences program at NVU-Johnson, and a registered dietitian, studies the impact of nutrition on health. Her paper on the Relationship between Magnesium Intake and Chronic Pain in U.S. Adults was published in July 2020, and her current research is titled “Exploring the Relationship Between Falls Risk and Nutrition Status in Community-Dwelling Older Adults.” This study began in fall 2020, and the six-month follow-up survey with the over 700 study participants is scheduled for early March 2021.

The follow-up survey may also provide a window into the impact of the pandemic on participants’ food security — which is linked to falls and nutrition risk, Tarleton said. The pandemic has increased isolation, and impacted the physical activity level, access to food, and readiness to eat among older adults, she said. “This work can help to identify where our systems are breaking down and what how to plan for future needs in this vulnerable population,” Tarleton said.