Scientists have found that older people at a high risk of falling can be trained to stay on their feet more consistently, using a treadmill and virtual reality.
Why do the elderly tend to fall?
Falls in older people often occur because of tripping and poor obstacle negotiation while walking. Older people’s ability to negotiate obstacles can be impaired because of age-related decline in cognitive abilities like motor planning, divided attention, executive control, and judgment, yet current interventions for falls in older adults typically focus on improving muscle strength, balance, and gait. Dr. Mirelman
Many community centers, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, old age homes, etc. utilize treadmills to help the elderly improve their walking skills in a safe environment.
Walking skills can be improved even more with the addition of a virtual reality element to the exercise mix, a study led by Mirelman and recently published in The Lancet showed. The approach combined treadmill exercise and virtual reality to help improve both physical mobility and cognitive aspects that are important for safe walking.
Source: The Times of Israel
THE STUDY: Researchers from 5 institutions enrolled 282 volunteers, age 60 - 90. Participants included patients with Parkinson's Disease and also a few with mild cognitive impairment.
Criteria For Inclusion:
- Must be able to walk for at least 5 minutes unassisted.
- Had fallen more than 2x in the six months prior to the study.
TWO STUDY GROUPS - Training was over a 6 week period, 16 sessions, 45 minutes each.
- Group A received VR + Treadmill Training.
- Group B received Treadmill Training alone.
Virtual Reality + Treadmill Training – How Did This Work?
- A camera captured the movement of the participant’s feet which was projected onto a screen so that the patient could see their feet walking in real time. The simulation included real life obstacles such as puddles, bumps and pathways that one had to navigate
RESULTS Reported in Lancet Journal 2016
TRAINING Week 1
TRAINING Week 6
Combined training helped to decrease fall risk, and fall frequency, for at least 6 months after training. The incidence rate of falls decreased in both groups but was only notable in the combined group - VR + Treadmill where the incidence of falls decreased by 42%.
The scientists said the training could be used in gyms, rehabilitation centers, or nursing homes to improve safe walking and prevent falls in older adults or people with disorders, which affect movement.
"Further studies will need to examine whether treadmill training plus virtual reality could be used as part of a prevention package to treat fall risk before falls become common and before injuries occur." Mirelman
Source: WIRED UK
WIRED UK 16 August 2016
Times of Israel 16 August 2016
Lancet 11 August 2016
Medicine Today September 2016