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Research looks at adults who have fallen through the gap

Australian-first research to prevent falls in middle-aged and younger-older adults is taking place in South Australia.

The study, supported by ACH Group, and led by physiotherapist Nicky Baker, is investigating the relationship between postural sway (body movement) and near falls.

Ms Baker, a PhD candidate at Flinders University, said while falls prevention is widely researched this project involves an unnoticed group of adults.

“Often research looks at diagnostic groups, for example, people living with Parkinson’s Disease or who have had a stroke, or studies compare fallers and non-fallers,” she said.

“This study involves people who have ‘near falls’ – stumbles, trips, and missteps. Near falls often precede falls but no one acknowledges them because they don’t get injured or are embarrassed about falling.

“We’re aiming to identify what postural sway looks like in people who have near falls and measuring the changes in their postural sway while they take part in concurrent mental tasks and after physical activity.”

Over 60 South Australians aged between 40 and 74 are currently taking part in the study, which involves:

  • An online survey,
  • An hour face-to-face balance testing, held at ACH Group’s Health Studio 50+ at Glenelg, where a sensor on the lower back is worn to track postural sway,
  • Keeping a diary for three months to note any near falls or falls.

Ms Baker said after data is collected and analysed it will determine whether increased postural sway increases the chance of near falls.

“If this is the case, which we think it is, we will then be able to inform clinical practice – what personal trainers, exercise physiologists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists do in terms of falls prevention and balance activities,” she said.

“No one thinks they will fall until they do and then it comes as a surprise. If there are flags that identify someone is at risk of falling, we can address that early and mitigate the risk through activity or exercise.”

ACH Group CEO Frank Weits said as an aged care provider ACH Group is proud to support research into a serious health event that affects tens of thousands of older South Australians every year.

“Fall-related injuries can have devastating effects on people’s long-term health and their confidence,” he said.

“This research has the potential to be implemented into our service delivery, in particularly our gym and allied health services, to benefit customers and lessen the chance falls.

“This is another great example of the Flinders University and ACH Group research partnership that helps support older South Australians to live good lives.”

The study will continue until the end of September 2021. South Australians aged 40-74 who are interested in taking part in the research are asked to contact Ms Baker via [email protected]

Ms Baker’s PhD is funded by the Australian Research Council funded Digital Enhanced Living Hub of which ACH Group is also a partner. Her PhD is supervised by Sue Gordon, Professor of Healthy Ageing, who has a co-funded position between ACH Group and Flinders University.

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