Ask your doctor
Unfortunately, knowing why we fall doesn’t seem to translate into fewer falls. Often older adults don’t admit to vulnerability or even to having had a fall, and so they don’t take steps to prevent them. Jeffrey Kaye, M.D., director of the Oregon Center for Aging and Technology at Oregon Health and Science University, has learned that firsthand. He and his colleagues placed wireless sensors in the homes of volunteers and monitored their movements. The participants in the ongoing study are asked every week if they have fallen.
A “yes” doesn’t result in any difference in their walking according to the sensors.
“They get up and they say ‘I fell’ but they are able to walk and they just go about their business,” Kaye says. Although the home sensor system shows that people fell, “it doesn’t change their behavior, at least in the short term, in any obvious way.”
So what’s the best way to break this cycle?
Having a doctor evaluate patients’ risk for falls is the most important step people can take, says Stevens of the CDC’s Injury Center.
While the ancient practice of tai chi and other programs can improve balance, the latest technology may also help in the fight against falls.
Perkins from Illinois was in a pioneering program where she and others got on a treadmill, wearing a harness that held them up if they fell. As researchers unexpectedly speeded up or slowed down the treadmill, people would often fall the first time but quickly learn to catch themselves. That was no surprise to Mark Grabiner, professor of kinesiology and bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who designed the program. He and his colleagues have been studying how older adults fall in order to train them not to—whether by taking a short step, a long step or even a couple of steps to help them regain their balance.