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Researchers Trip Seniors to Prevent Future Falls

Update Date: Aug 28, 2014 04:27 PM EDT
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Falls are the leading cause of injury in seniors. It only takes one bad fall to jeopardize the health of older adults. In a new study, researchers devised a new experiment testing a technique that could prevent older people from falling. The technique involves purposely tripping older people.

For this study, the researchers from the University of Illinois in Chicago set out to find an unconventional way to prevent future falls. Typical efforts to prevent falls include exercise regimens that build strength and improve balance. This experiment involved a lab-built walkway that is designed to unexpectedly cause people to trip. According to the researchers, this type of technique is focused on improving people's subconscious learning.

"This is all implicit learning. We don't give any instruction. They don't have to be motivated - they're naturally motivated because they don't want to be on the floor," said lead researcher, Clive Pai, a physical therapy professor, reported by FOX News.

The technique was tested on one patient, 81-year-old Mary Kaye back in June. In this preliminary part of the experiment, Kaye was instructed to use the walkway with sensors placed on her arms and legs that allowed the researchers to collect information on her movements. She was also strapped into a harness that helped her stay upright if needed. At a random point, the researchers created a bump a long the walkway that tripped the walker. Kaye was able to keep her balance after stumbling a bit. The researchers found that 24 similar trip instances conducted in one session was enough to teach people how to catch themselves when tripped, reducing their chances of falling.

In the other part of the experiment, Kaye had to walk on a treadmill , where researchers once again created tripping instances. Kaye successfully stayed on her foot. The researchers believe that her training during the preliminary round improved her balance and prevented her from falling.

Since this technique is still being tested, experts remind seniors of other prevention techniques recommended by the NIA (National Institute on Aging) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some of these methods include exercising, vision exams, reducing clutter at home, lowering alcohol intake and using a cane/walker.

Pai received a $1 million grant to study whether or not the treadmill technique is effective in preventing falls in the long run. The grant will last five years and was given by the NIA. The researchers aim to recruit 300 participants.

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