Training to avoid falls

By • Published: May 11th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

If you watched television in the late 1980s and early 1990s, you’ve probably heard the phrase “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” a few times, at least. Uttered by an elderly woman lying on the floor, this catchphrase might seem silly, but it captures the essence of a common problem many folks face as they grow older… falling.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls led to nearly two million visits to the emergency room and nearly sixteen-hundred deaths among adults sixty-five and older in 2005. The C-D-C also reports that each year, one out of every three senior citizens suffers a fall.

Now, University of Illinois researchers are studying a new method that could someday help keep older adults on their feet.

The researchers trained participants on a moving platform that recreated unstable situations that might trigger a fall. The hope? That the training would help them avoid tumbles on uneven floors or spills on slippery surfaces. A harness prevented the subjects from actually falling. Sensors measured how much help they needed from the harness to avoid the fall.

After thirty-seven sessions, the researchers tested how well participants could traverse a slippery vinyl floor. Their progress was measured against an untrained control group. The results? All stayed upright and only one lost his or her balance during the exercise. The control group didn’t fare so well.

More research is needed, but eventually these studies could help keep people on their feet and off the floor.