An article in the Wall Street Journal this week focuses on “the science of falls” and lends explanation to some questions about the mental and physical mechanics of falling. Landing more than 2 million elderly in the emergency room in 2010, falls are one of the leading causes of long term care and should be considered as you begin to age.
Taking measures to reduce your risk of a fall will help you stay healthier, and ultimately safer, in old age. While home modifications such as hand rails, ramps, brighter light bulbs, and other updates may make a fall less likely, maintaining your health over the long term will also assist you in avoiding a fall.
Researchers at various institutions across the nation have conducted studies that analyze how people fall and how their bodies react to a fall. The connection between the brain and the rest of the body during a fall has also been a point of study for many scientists, determined to identify the specific mental and physical reactions that occur in response.
Some studies have demonstrated that each step is different than the next, and the slight variations and shifts in weight cause the rest of the body, especially the upper torso, to instantaneously react and readjust to support the variations in step.
Help from the Brain
Kathleen Cullen, a physiology professor at McGill University in Montreal, worked on a study that analyzed the brain during a fall and discovered a motion-detector neurons that were transmitted when the body moves in an unexpected way.
She explained the findings of their study by describing how “the cerebellum is computing unexpected motion within milliseconds to send information to the spinal cord to maintain balance.”
Other research has shown the effect of this step variation and body movement on the elderly, in an attempt to discern why the aged are more likely to suffer from falls. A study at the University of Texas at Austin found that the elderly are more at risk of those same variations in step that can render a person unstable. This, coupled with the fact that our sense of balance wanes as we age due to a less sensitive vestibular system, can often result in losing balance and suffering a fall.
Reduce Your Risk
Falls are the top cause of injury and death in the elderly, according to the CDC, and 1 in 3 adults over the age of 65 falls each year. They are also one of the leading causes of long term care, which can often be emotionally and financially devastating. Taking steps to maintain the health of your body and avoid a potential long term care situation is important to consider as you age. Read more about how to stay healthy or the risk of long term care.