Scientists Study Fall Prevention in Athletes and Elderly

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The changing seasons often bring special challenges to seniors. Like winter, but to a lesser degree, autumn is a time when older adults should be especially careful of falling. Wet surfaces, combined with fallen leaves are potentially treacherous for those with unsteady footing or balance issues. A huge health risk for the elderly, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cites falls as the highest cause for death and injuries in people 65 and over. In 2010, over two million older adults went to emergency rooms as the result of a fall.

There are many preventive measures seniors can take to help prevent falls, such as exercises to improve stamina, avoiding clutter in their homes, and using mobility aids like canes and walkers if needed. While there has been much scientific research on fall prevention, scientists still don’t fully understand why exactly people fall. But in some exciting new studies, researchers are looking into the actual mechanisms in the body that contribute to falling. The studies hope to not just help the elderly, but also examine causes for athletes’ falls.

One study, which was conducted by physiology professor Kathleen Cullen at McGill University in Montreal, focused on learning how the brain controls and facilitates balance through signals sent to the spinal column. Another study at the University of Texas at Austin took measurement from reflective markers attached to different areas of the body, allowing a computer to compile a digital image of variations in steps of subjects while on a treadmill. Testing healthy young people and seniors, the research showed older people are more at risk from these small stepping and gait variations.

Although much insight into the science of falls has been gained, scientists are still unclear about exactly how balance and gait factor into falls and preventing them. But most researchers agree that more comprehensive evaluations by seniors’ family doctors would help them better assess risk factors for their patients.

 

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