Learning How We Maintain Balance May Help Prevent Falls Among the Elderly

According to an article published by the Wall Street Journal, scientists are currently conducting research as to how we maintain our balance and stability.

Insights into the issue may help doctors better predict peoples risk of falling, leading to improvements in prevention and rehabilitation strategies.

The news should come as a relief to the elderly and their family/caregivers. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the number one cause of death and injury among people age 65 and older–in 2010 alone, more than two million older people went to an emergency room because of a fall.

Below, we’ve compiled some facts taken from the article to help you better understand the research being conducted.

The body has three main systems that help us stay balanced:

  • The visual system, the proprioceptive system (which helps us sense our body parts), and the vestibular system (which focuses primarily on how the head moves).
  • If at least two of these systems are impaired, people tend to have trouble with balance.
  • As people age, the vestibular system becomes less sensitive and people begin to rely more on their vision, making it harder for the elderly to process information that allows them to correct their missteps.

Researchers are also measuring variations in step–based on stride and how we shift our weight–in order to see how such variations can affect our balance. What they’ve discovered is this:

  • Greater variability in steps, typical among the elderly, could indicate a higher risk of falling.
  • Along with greater variability in steps, researchers have also noticed that older individuals are more at risk from small variations in steps than younger people.

Researchers have also been studying how big of a role the brain plays in balance. What they discovered were neurons in a small region of the cerebellum that respond to the unexpected motion and alert the body to react. Because this is a relatively new discovery, more research needs to be conducted in order to better identify exactly what the brain does in such a situation.

When explaining why an accident occurs, older people often say they tripped or slipped. In order to pinpoint the exact cause(s), researchers placed video cameras throughout a long-term care facility to see what they could find. In the span of three years they recorded 227 falls from 130 individuals.

This is what they discovered:

  • Tripping caused just 1 out of 5 of the incidents.
  • Falls due to incorrect weight shifting, like leaning over too far, made up about 41% of the total.
  • Other reasons included loss of support of an object (guard rail, cane, walker) or bumping into something.

We may still be in the early stages of this research, but it’s great to see what scientists are doing to help improve the lives of the elderly.

If you’d like to know more about falls among the elderly, you should see our falls section here. And as always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact us in the comments or on Twitter.

Physicians’ Choice Private Duty Assisted Living currently serving Omaha, Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa provides seniors and their families a complete understanding of geriatric care options and helps families maneuver through the challenges of the system. Get your free Cost Comparison guide by clicking here. Or contact us for a free consultation or just to say hello!

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