Ag­ing slows your per­cep­tion of falls

Waterloo Region Record - - LOCAL - Jo­hanna Wei­d­ner, Record staff jwei­d­ner@there­, Twit­ter: @Wei­d­nerRecord

WATER­LOO — Se­niors take twice as long as young adults to re­al­ize they’re fall­ing, and that de­lay puts them at greater risk of se­ri­ous in­jury, ac­cord­ing to a new Univer­sity of Water­loo study.

“The older adult re­quires twice as much time to per­ceive the fall,” said Michael Bar­nett-Cowan, a ki­ne­si­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor and se­nior au­thor on the study.

“They won’t know un­til they’re well into the fall.”

Un­for­tu­nately, by then it’s of­ten too late to do any­thing about it.

Bar­nett-Cowan hopes the find­ings will help guide the de­vel­op­ment of wear­able fall preven­tion tech­nol­ogy, as well as give health-care providers a tool to bet­ter iden­tify peo­ple who are at a higher risk of falls.

Falls are the lead­ing cause of death and hos­pi­tal­iza­tion in Canada. Between 20 to 30 per cent of se­niors fall each year, ac­cord­ing to the Pub­lic Health Agency of Canada.

Falls of­ten cause se­ri­ous in­jury and lead to a se­nior mov­ing into long-term care.

In or­der to mea­sure a par­tic­i­pant’s fall per­cep­tion, re­searchers is­sued a sound at dif­fer­ent times rel­a­tive to a su­per­vised fall. They found the healthy young adults needed the fall to hap­pen about 44 mil­lisec­onds be­fore the sound in or­der for both cues to be per­ceived as hap­pen­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Adults over 60 needed about 88 mil­lisec­onds.

While that may not sound like much, Bar­nett-Cowan said that “it’s a huge amount of time in brain time.”

The study also found the time var­ied, in­clud­ing two se­niors who were much slower at per­ceiv­ing a fall.

“Some might be more at risk than oth­ers,” Bar­nett-Cowan said.

That po­ten­tially cre­ates an op­por­tu­nity to iden­tify those who haven’t yet suf­fered a fall but are at greater risk, and re­fer them to pre­ven­tive care such as re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

Bar­nett-Cowan wants to fur­ther test the re­la­tion­ship between re­flex and per­cep­tion in older adults. When the ner­vous sys­tem’s abil­ity to de­tect a fall and com­pen­sate is di­min­ished, the risk of in­jury or death in­creases sig­nif­i­cantly.

“Your ac­tual con­scious aware­ness of it is twice as slow,” he said.

The study ap­pears in the jour­nal Gait & Pos­ture.

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