Research May Lead to Fewer Falls in Older Adults
What do Hillary Clinton, Pope Benedict XVI and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith have in common? They have all sustained broken bones or other injuries from recent falls. And they are not alone. In North Carolina, falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries and the second-leading cause of nonfatal injuries for people ages 65 and older. The problem is so great that Gov. Beverly Perdue has declared the first week of autumn, September 20-26, 2010, to be Falls Prevention Awareness Week.
A team of UNC Asheville researchers are determined to help decrease the number of falls. “Our goal is to understand why the risk of falling increases with age and what components underlie that increasing risk,” said Jason Wingert, assistant professor of Health and Wellness Promotion.
In addition to Wingert, the research team includes Assistant Professor of Psychology Patrick Foo, Strength Coach Brad DeWeese, Assistant Professor of Psychology Michael Neelon and Associate Professor of Biology Chris Nicolay.
“UNC Asheville is becoming a focal point for lifelong wellness in the Southeast,” Foo said. “So, we’d like to better understand balance, see fewer people fall, and therefore improve people’s lives.”
The research will focus on proprioception, which is one’s sense of the relative position of different parts of the body.
“We’re measuring how your brain knows where you are in the world,” Wingert explained. “There’s belief that this sense decreases with age just as many other senses decrease.”
The professors and three undergraduate assistants have begun collecting data on the study’s three participant groups: college students, mid-age adults and older adults. And they are seeking more volunteers. Those who wish to enroll in the study may call Wingert at 828.250.2341 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once all the data is collected, the research team plans to literally put the findings into action. Research subjects will learn a simple yoga stance that may help them become more aware of body sway movements that naturally occur while standing. If the pose decreases sway, it can be added to fall prevention efforts.
“We’re trying to find strategies for people to be more balanced in their daily lives and remain active,” said Wingert.
Foo agrees. “We want older adults to be functional,” he said. “These do not have to be years of decline—they can be years of potential.”