A new study estimates that seniors take twice as long as young adults to realize that they are falling, and to prevent it once it occurs. This delay in perception may put them at increased risk of serious injury from the fall.

“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,” says Michael Barnett-Cowan, a kinesiology professor at University of Waterloo, in a media release. “Given that falls are often the catalyst for a transition to long-term care, these findings highlight both the importance of adequate assessement for older adults and the need to expedite new prevention technology.”

“Falling threatens one’s survival,” adds Barnett-Cowan, senior author of the study, published recently in Gait & Posture. “When the nervous system’s ability to detect a fall and compensate with protective reflexes diminishes, the risk of injury or death increases significantly.”

In their study, the release explains, the researchers presented study participants with a sound at different times relative to a supervised fall. They found that young adults required the fall to happen about 44 milliseconds before the sound in order for both cues to be perceived as occurring simultaneously. But adults over 60 years old required fall onset to occur about 88 milliseconds before the sound.

“Measuring fall perception not only is important in prevention efforts, but also provides information about how the brain processes sensory information and how this changes with age,” states Julian Lupo, a graduate student and the study’s lead author.

The researchers note that the findings from their study could shape the development of fall prevention technology and allow clinicians to more accurately identify those at risk for falls.

“Age and associated delays will need to be seriously considered when designing any aids to help seniors mitigate this risk,” Barnett-Cowan continues.

[Source(s): University of Waterloo, Science Daily]