Study: Ability to anticipate falls weakens with age

Older adults take twice as long to realize they are falling compared to young adults, according to research published in the journal Gait & Posture.

For the study, researchers enrolled participants from two different age groups: 19 to 25 years and 61 and 72 years. To assess participants' ability to perceive falls, researchers initiated a sound at different times during a supervised fall.

Observation revealed young adults were able to perceive the fall and the sound as occurring simultaneously if the fall was initiated 44 milliseconds before the sound. The older participants required fall onset to occur about 88 milliseconds before the sound in order to perceive the events as occurring at once.

"This lag means that by the time older adults realize they are falling, it's often too late for them to consciously do anything about it," said senior author Michael Barnett-Cowan, PhD, a kinesiology professor at University of Waterloo in Canada. "Given that falls are often the catalyst for a transition to long-term care, these findings highlight both the importance of adequate assessment for older adults and the need to expedite new prevention technology."

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