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UIC Research Targets Treadmill Program to “Train” Older Adults In Avoiding Falls

Clive Pai, PhD, MPT, University of Illinois at Chicago, has reportedly been awarded a 5-year, $1 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to develop a computerized treadmill program that could potentially be used in physical therapy offices to prevent falls and fall-related injuries in older adults. A news release from the university notes that Pai has been studying the unique way in which individuals fall for more than 20 years.

According to the release, Pai’s research suggests individuals may be trained relatively quickly and easily how not to fall. His recent study encompassed adults aged 65 to almost 90 years old who live independently. Once the patients were strapped into a safety harness, they were asked to walk down a special walkway in Pai’s lab. The participants were not told how or when they might fall. To facilitate a fall, the footing surface was suddenly pulled out from beneath them.

Pai notes that participants experienced falling the first, second, and sometimes a third time, “And then, all of sudden, they stopped falling. They were so quick to adapt—that was the real fascination to me 20 years ago.”

The release states Pai observed that the participants retained what they had learned for as long as 12 months. The results indicate that participants were less likely to fall when they returned to the lab 6 months to a year later, and in their daily lives they were 50% less likely to fall in the year after training than in the year before.

Pai’s team, the release adds, also found that tests and training can be safe for individuals with reduced bone density. Pai articulates his hopes that it will ultimately prove safe for individuals with osteoporosis, the most severe bone thinning, and the group most at risk for poor outcome following a fall.

Since Pai’s lab set-up would prove too large for the typical physical therapy office, the university notes, Pai developed a computer-controlled treadmill engineered to replicate the training device in his lab. The new NIH grant will fund his efforts to determine if the treadmill training can be as effective.

In the release, Pai emphasizes that in the future he would like to see the integration of half an hour of training on a treadmill, with the patient strapped into a safety harness and learning not to fall, as part of annual preventative care for older adults.

Photo Credit: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

Source: University of Illinois at Chicago