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Researchers look at brain activity to study falling

5089256378_bb06d1562dFalling down is an inevitable hazard of walking, even for a seasoned runway model. Basketball players practice taking a charge and modern dancers learn fall and recovery techniques, but what about those who are at greater risk of injury upon impact, such as older adults?

Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology are working to understand why the elderly suffer more serious falls than younger people. In a recent study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, scientists used an electroencephalogram to watch the electrical response in different regions of the brain before and during a fall to determine which parts first identify the fall.

The study used EEG on healthy young adults, who walked heel-to-toe on a balance beam attached to a treadmill, and who were able to continue walking without injury if they fell off the beam.

From a release:

[Lead researcher Daniel Ferris, PhD] and colleagues then used a method called independent components analysis to separate and visualize the electrical activity in different parts of the brain. They found that people sense the start of a fall much better with both feet on the ground.


The researchers were surprised that so many different parts of the brain activate during a fall, and they didn't expect the brain to recognize a loss of balance as early as it does.

Future studies comparing the elderly with younger subjects could determine if the elderly sense falls too late, in which case, pharmaceuticals might help them regain their balance. If it's a simple motor problem such as muscles not responding properly, strengthening exercises could help.

Photo by aurélien

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