For Older Folks, Falls Can Be Especially Dangerous. UD Researchers Want to Help.
Researchers at the University of Delaware’s Falls and Mobility Laboratory are working on solutions to help prevent falls and related injuries.
Photo by Kathy Atkinson
Remember chuckling at those commercials with the poor older woman lying on the bathroom floor shouting: “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”?
Well, once you’ve taken a couple unplanned tumbles of your own, you realize that lying stunned on the ground after a violent crash landing isn’t funny at all.
The Centers for Disease Control says that more than one out of four folks ages 65 and older fall each year, but less than half report it to their doctor. And falling once doubles the chance that you’ll fall again. The CDC also notes that 28,000 people died from falls in 2015.
On a lighter note, researchers at the University of Delaware’s Falls and Mobility Laboratory in Newark are working on solutions to help prevent these types of injuries. The lab’s long-term goal is to reduce the incidence of falls, lessen the severity of injuries from falls and enable physical activity in patients.
Professor Jeremy Crenshaw’s research focuses on how neuromuscular (nerves and muscles) function dictates fall risk. “We examine the role of exercise in reducing the risk of falls,” he says. “We are finding that the most effective exercise is to practice falling. If you practice over and over again to catch your balance, you can cut the rate of falls in half.”
Crenshaw stresses that the topic of what causes falls is very broad. Causes can include obstacles, tripping, slipping or simply people undertaking risky activities. He suggests people more prone to falling speak with a physician about factors that increase fall risk, such as vision, medications or dizziness.
Taking preventive measures is also critical. Modify your home by removing obstacles and adding railings where there are slippery surfaces, especially in the bathroom or outside.
Crenshaw says one of the best forms of preventive exercises is t’ai chi because it’s weight-bearing and involves lots of turning and stepping in different directions. He says an even more effective solution is to do such exercises at a higher speed.
“We think that if you increase the speed of exercise—if you can do it safely and still have the same aspects of direction changes—that’s going to have the best benefit.