Training may ”inoculate” elderly against falls

February 5th, 2009 - 5:15 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 5 (ANI): In a new study, a research team, including an Indian origin scientist, has found that training people to avoid falls by repeatedly exposing them to unstable situations can help them to later maintain their balance on a slippery floor.
The study led by Tanvi Bhatt and Yi-Chung (Clive) Pai, of the University of Illinois at Chicago showed how the brain develops fall prevention strategies and eventually helps people, including the elderly in preventing fall-related injuries.
Previous studies had shown that people could quickly learn to maintain balance and avoid a fall with a short training period on the platform.
And in the new study, the researchers wanted to see whether training on the platform could transfer to prevent a fall on a slippery floor.
During the study, eight participants were trained on the moveable platform for a total of 37 times.
The low-friction platform was set up so that it released unannounced, 24 of those times. This release created a low-friction condition to cause a frontward or backward slip.
The platform does not allow the foot to slip from side to side, as would be the case in a real-life fall.
The participants were later asked to walk on a vinyl surface that had one slippery spot that they could not see. The vinyl surface represented a particular challenge following the laboratory training, in part because it could cause the foot to slide in any direction.
The researchers found that none of the trained participants fell on the slippery floor and seven of the eight never lost balance.
The trained subjects were able to transfer the skill and avoid a fall on the slippery floor because they were better at controlling the landing foot, that is, the foot that is on the ground during the slip
“Controlling this foot, which is sliding forward, plays an important role in maintaining stability and prevents a backward fall,” Pai said.
The researchers also found that the trained group unconsciously changed their gait. They used a flatter landing foot and bent the landing knee more. These changes reduced the landing force and the velocity of the slip.
The authors concluded that the brain is able to generalize fall training from one situation to another by modifying gait to make loss of balance less likely,
Fall training may be particularly helpful for active elderly persons who put themselves in more challenging situations. Fall prevention training may cut down on hip fractures, surgery, rehabilitation and pain and suffering.
The research appears in Journal of Neurophysiology. (ANI)

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