Falls are common among the elderly. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) estimates that one out of four older persons fall each year. Therefore, the importance of a slip and fall prevention program, such as those available in Brooklyn, NYC, can never be overemphasized.
Why do people fall? And compared to young people who recover almost immediately, why do older people have more devastating consequences like a hip fracture? While a lot of research has gone into investigating fall risk factors, the results have been “repetitive and circular”, according to James Richardson, M.D., professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Musculoskeletal Center.
This expert and his team have been working to identify the factors that cause some people to recover from a trip or fall successfully while others end up suffering serious injuries. The goal: to help prevent the serious injuries, disability, and even death that commonly occur after accidental falls.
The Need for Specific Research
There are generic reasons provided as risk factors for falls, such as poor gait or balance, having a fall history, or consuming too many prescription medicines, but they don’t really explain anything specifically. To make any meaningful contribution to reducing the number of serious falls, the distinct characteristics behind each fall need to be identified. These characteristics also need to be measured in the clinic.
In his latest research, Richardson discovered that there are more than just the oft repeated risk factors behind falls and recovering from them, such as reaction times of the person when confronted with a situation that could cause the fall. This depends on what Richardson calls “brain speed”.
Reaction Time in Peripheral Neuropathy Patients
The task was to identify the relationships between reaction time and balance indicators in elderly individuals with diabetic peripheral neuropathy – nerve damage in individuals with diabetes. It was found that patients of peripheral neuropathy fell twice as much as other individuals of their age.
The researchers wanted to assess the ability of each patient to decide to carry out an action in less than 400 milliseconds or half a second. That’s the time each foot is usually in the air while walking.That’s also the time that’s available for recovering from a stumble.
Device for Measuring Clinical Reaction Time
Richardson and his team came up with an assessment device for clinical reaction time. The team came to the conclusion that the brain is fast enough to have a good complex reaction time accuracy to prevent a planned step and take safer action. The researcher says that the reason why an elderly person falls is that their brain is not keeping up with what is happening and unable to quickly and selectively prevent the accident.