Why do seniors fall?

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December 8th, 2010

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Omaha, NE – Researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha are hoping to better understand how walking and multitasking might be connected to some older people’s risk of falling. By using a motion capture system, 70 year-old, Dave Franzer gets on a treadmill for a walking test with UNO researchers.

UNO researcher hooks up volunteer Dave Franzer to check his cognitive functions while walking (Photo Angel Martin)

“From that we can create a computer model of Dave walking. And further analyze his gate patterns.”

Words and phrases such as, fruits and vegetables appear on the scene in front of Franzer, while he walks the treadmill. He’s asked to respond accordingly and the researchers observe his physical responses. With the help of a National Institute of Health grant for $163,000, Doctor Leslie Decker along with UNO’s School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation hopes to gain a better understanding of why some older adults continually fall. Decker said cognitive difficulties may play a role.

“So, our goal is to better understand why some older adults” those specifically with “MCI or cognitive impairments or cognitive declines have more difficulty handling dual tasks…doing two things at once. So, we believe that by challenging the older person” with these problems helps us “to understand what they do not accommodate correctly in their walking pattern.”

UNO's Dr. Decker with Dave Franzer (Photo Angel Martin)

Decker said when people without cognitive problems multitask, for example at a cocktail party, listening to several conversations going on at once; they’ll automatically adjust their walking patterns to keep from falling. But seniors who fall repeatedly may not be making the same adjustments. Decker hopes to find the connection, and if she can, she may be eligible for a further $750,000 in research funding.

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