Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
November 25, 2005
Research May Help Prevent Falls Among Seniors
It’s estimated that one in three elderly people will experience a fall in their lifetime, with many never fully recovering from their injuries. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries among Canadian seniors.
A University of Guelph professor is hoping her research on locomotion will be useful in helping reduce this public health problem. Lori Vallis of the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences is studying movement in the elderly, examining how they avoid obstacles.
“Most falls in the elderly are due to tripping over ‘obstacles’ such as the leg of an end table, a misplaced shoe or even an area rug,” Vallis said. “I hope to limit the amount of falls by studying seniors and obstacles.”
Her study, which has been under way for the past 2 ½ years, involves documenting different sensory inputs such as sight, sense of balance and head positioning in seniors while they manoeuvre through an obstacle course.
Vallis is studying seniors in three different age categories: young elderly, 65 to 74; mid-elderly, 75 to 84; and older elderly, 85-plus. “A person at 65 compared with a person at 80 has very different movement capabilities, so grouping them together is not going to produce a good description of the problems in seniors,” she said.
Dividing the seniors into age groups will enable Vallis to determine the differences in movement between older and younger elderly people. Identifying those differences will help in developing techniques in fall prevention that can target the elderly more effectively, she said.
Preventing serious falls is essential to help seniors maintain their quality of life, but is also a pressing issue for the Canadian health-care system, she said. It’s estimated that serious falls generate $2.4 billion in annual health-care costs in Canada (comparatively, the estimated cost of motor vehicle accidents per year is $345 million).
Vallis, who is working with graduate students Catherine Lowrey and Rebecca Reed-Jones on the study, hopes the information gathered can be used by clinicians to develop new techniques in fall prevention and rehabilitation.
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