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University of Michigan study examines neurological response to falls

August 15, 2013

Falls among the senior population can seriously threaten healthy aging. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one-third of adults 65 and older experience a fall each year, and they are the leading cause of injury-related death among the elderly population. Despite the prevalence of incidents, the senior health community does not know much about what happens in the brain and muscles that can cause a fall, and a new study being conducted at the University of Michigan hopes to find out why seniors lose their balance.

The study is being conducted by experts at the university's School of Kinesiology and relies on an electroencephalogram to monitor brain activity before and after a fall. Some of the early findings revealed that there is considerable brain activity in the time before a fall but the muscles fail to react. 

"We're using an EEG in a way others don't, to look at what's going on inside the brain," said lead researcher Daniel Ferris. "We were able to determine what parts of the brain first identify when you are losing your balance during walking."

Although there is a significant risk of falls among the senior population, there are a number of steps older adults can take to improve their balance and reduce the chances of falling. According to the Mayo Clinic, physical activity is one of the best methods because regular exercise can improve muscle strength, flexibility and gait.

Changes around the house can play an important role as well. Specifically, removing tripping hazards such as boxes and newspaper, as well as improving lighting throughout the home can have a significant impact, the Mayo Clinic notes.