The Covid-19 pandemic may have increased older adults‘ risk of falling and injuring themselves, due to changes in physical activity, conditioning and mobility, a new US national poll suggests.

The National Poll on Healthy Ageing, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, is based on answers from a national sample of more than 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80 to a poll taken between the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and January 2021.

The poll finds 25 percent of older adults experienced a fall, and 40 percent of these had more than one fall during the poll period.

More than a third of older adults (37 percent) reported being less physically active since the pandemic began. Nearly the same percentage said they spent less time on their feet, walking or standing, after March 2020.

This reduced activity translated into 27 percent saying their physical conditioning – flexibility, muscle strength, and endurance – had worsened. Mobility – the ability to move around including with a cane, walker, or vehicle – declined by 25 percent, according to poll responses.

Fear of falling increased by 23 per cent of during the pandemic. But it was much higher among those who reported less physical activity (32 per cent), worsened physical conditioning (42 per cent) or worsened mobility (45 per cent).

The poll also reveals clues about how the loneliness and lack of companionship that increased among older adults during the pandemic might play into changes in activity levels, mobility and fall risk, said poll director Preeti Malani, a Michigan Medicine infectious disease physician.

“As life gets closer to normal, especially for the large percentage of older adults who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, healthcare providers and loved ones should encourage more interactions that involve safe physical activity,” Malani added.

Falls lead to the deaths of more than 32,000 older adults each year, and the number has risen steadily in recent years and is expected to continue to increase with the ageing of the US population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.