Researchers at the Sackler Medical School of Tel Aviv University have developed a program to reduce the incidence of falls among the elderly, which often lead to hospitalization and nursing home care, The Times of Israel reported.
The program utilizes a combination of treadmills and virtual reality technology to help the elderly maintain or improve their motor skills.
The virtual reality component consists of a camera that captures the movement of participants’ feet and projects it onto a screen in front of the treadmill, so that they can see their feet walking on the screen in real time. The simulation was found to be valuable to the participants in avoiding and stepping over obstacles like puddles or hurdles, and navigating pathways.
On average, participants took part in 16 training sessions over six weeks, with each session lasting about 45 minutes. Fall rates were recorded in the six months following the end of training.
During the six months after training, the rate of falls dropped significantly among those who used the treadmill with virtual reality: 11.9 to 6.0 falls, a 42 percent reduction. Those who trained on treadmills only saw a reduction of 10.7 to 8.3 falls, not considered statistically significant.
The most dramatic improvement was experienced by participants with Parkinson’s disease.
Falls in adults aged 65 and over account for about two percent of all health-care expenditures in high-income countries, according to OECD data. Thirty percent of older adults living in a typical community, and as many as 60 percent to 80 percent of older adults with mild cognitive impairment, dementia or Parkinson’s disease, fall at least once a year.