In a recent study, 44 community-dwelling adults age 65 or better participated in a series of three training sessions designed to teach them how to safely recover from a slip or trip without falling. Participants were strapped into a fall-safety harness and then instructed to walk a 10-meter walkway.
The walkway was designed so that some tiles could slide forward when stepped on, causing a slip, or could flip up to cause an unexpected trip. The hazardous tiles appeared no different from the rest of the walkway and could appear anywhere along the route, so participants could not anticipate a slip or trip. Performance on the final fall assessment was compared to performance of older adults who completed a non-hazardous control session.
Results showed that the reactive balance training was very effective in reducing falls: among older adults in the training group, falls were reduced by 60 percent compared to those in the control group. When faced with a slipping hazard, older adults in the control group fell 41 percent of the time, while older adults in the training group only fell about 14 percent of the time. Similarly, fall rate due to trips was 45 percent for the control group and 22 percent for the training group. Participants did not appear to be more cautious in their steps, so the improved fall rates were not due to the anticipation of a fall. In fact, postural control in recovery from a slip or trip was much better for participants in the training group.
Considering the impact that fall-related injury can have on older adults, this type of training may be extremely helpful in helping them maintain a high quality of life. The downside is that the training set-up used in this study is not readily available or easy to incorporate in existing spaces that older adults frequent. Although the safety harness would catch participants in the case of a fall, the training did not come without consequence; pain due to the training was not uncommon and a small number of injuries were reported.
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Okubo Y, Sturnieks DL, Brodie MA, Duran L, and Lord SR. Effect of reactive balance training involving repeated slips and trips on balance recovery among older adults: A blinded randomized controlled trial. Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences (2019); DOI:10.1093/gerona/glz021