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Research into balance could lower risk of elderly falls

9th October 2013

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

A number of research projects are reportedly shedding light on the science of balance, which Shirley S. Wang from The Wall Street Journal believes could help those who are at a higher risk of falling, such as athletes and older people with mobility difficulties.

Studies investigating balance have led researchers to conclude that a number of different parts of the body are involved in stability and balance; coordination needs to occur between arm movement, trunk angle, foot placement and head motion. All of the studies point towards our bodies making tiny adjustments in every step to maintain balance - something which those who have limited mobility would find more challenging.

A study by Dr Kathleen Cullen from McGill University identified three main systems in the body that help us to stay balanced; our visual system, the proprioceptive system and the vestibular system, which are explained more thoroughly in Shirley Wang's article. Essentially, people who have impairments to two of these systems will find it difficult to balance, and the vestibular system, which is associated with how the head moves, naturally becomes less sensitive as we age. This results in many older people becoming more reliant on their vision to walk, resulting in more frequent missteps or collisions with objects. This already presents a potential idea to help older people: a stairlift solution would eliminate the chances of missteps on staircases at home.

Another study focused on the reasons behind falls in older people. Dr Stephen Robinovitch from Simon Fraser University studied video footage of 227 falls that occurred over a three-year period and found tripping caused only 20 per cent of falls, whilst incorrect weight shifting accounted for 41 per cent of the falls. The act of standing up and sitting down requires a great deal of weight shifting according to Dr Robinovitch, and a rise and recline chair presents itself here as a potential solution because the support it provides takes away the need for the person to shift their weight.

Based on this research, Dr Robinovitch suggests that assessments of older peoples’ balance should be regularly carried out by doctors as this could help identify mobility problems and solutions before a fall occurs.

 

Image Credit: glasseyesview (flickr.com)