I’ve already put in 31 running miles on the treadmill in my basement for this week. In the process, I’ve counted plenty of sheep, too many, in fact!
Seniors can run too.
Just ask Clive Pai who believes seniors can be trained not to fall (a common problem for the elderly).
The professor of physical therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago will use a five-year, $1 million grant from the National Institute of Aging to develop a computerized treadmill program that could be used in physical therapy offices to prevent falls and fall-related injuries in older adults.
Each year, one in three adults over 65 falls at least once, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Falls are the leading cause of injury in older adults and make it harder for them to get around and live independently. In 2010, more that 21,000 older adults died from injuries related to falls.
Pai has been studying how people fall for over 20 years. Everyone falls in a unique way — because it’s unrehearsed and unexpected.
“We have never learned how to fall,” he said.
His research led him to a remarkable discovery — people can be trained relatively quickly and easily how not to fall.
In a recent study, Pai enlisted adults, aged 65 to almost 90, who live independently. The subjects were never told when or how they might fall, as they trod a special walkway in his lab, strapped safely into a harness. Suddenly, like stepping on a banana peel, the footing surface slid out from under them.
“For the first time, the second time, and maybe the third time, they experienced falling. And then, all of sudden, they stopped falling,” Pai said. “They were so quick to adapt—that was the real fascination to me 20 years ago.”
The quickness with which his study subjects (young and old) adapted and learned not to fall as the rug was pulled out from under them was unlike any other motor-learning Pai had seen.
“No one masters playing the piano or even a simple dance step after only two or three tries,” he said.
Pai also discovered that his subjects retained what they had learned for as long as 12 months. Not only were they less likely to fall when they returned to the lab six months to a year later, in their daily lives they were 50 percent less likely to fall in the year after training than in the year before.