older womanFalls – a leading cause of injury among seniors – can be made less likely with physical therapy and vitamin D supplements, according to new recommendations from a government-backed panel.

Falling is “often overlooked because doctors may not be aware of their patients' fall risk," said Dr. Albert Siu, a professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and vice co-chair of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), which issued the recommendations.

"By asking about falls and by observing the patient in terms of walking, we might be able to asses who might be at risk and who can benefit from preventive measures," Siu told Reuters Health.

The new guidelines, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, note that up to 40 percent of people aged 65 or older fall at least once each year, and five to 10 percent of them will have a serious injury such as a hip fracture.

The USPSTF makes recommendations on a range of prevention and treatment issues, and its guidelines on reducing the risk of falls in the elderly had not been updated since 1996.

The report reviewed measure that have proven unsuccessful in preventing falls, such correcting vision, wearing a shield called a hip protector, changing medications or taking protein supplements.

Vitamin D, exercise and physical therapy, however, can reducethe risk of falling by 13 to 17 percent.

Siu said the usual dose is 800 international units (IUs) per day, and studies suggest people should take vitamin D for one year to see any benefit.

As for physical therapy, Siu said there's not one particular exercise regimen that works best for preventing falls. He suggested that people talk to their doctors about finding an exercise or physical therapy program they'll stick to over the long run.

Informal assessments -- such as observing how steady patients are their feet and asking them whether they've had a fall recently – can help doctors identify those at risk for falls.

Physicians can also use a more formal test that includes timing how quickly people can get up from a chair, walk a few paces and return to the same spot.