Researchers develop new tools to prevent falls in older people

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As we age, keeping our balance and standing up straight can become more difficult. This happens because our muscles weaken, our vision changes, and the way our bodies process sensory information alters.

Unfortunately, these changes increase the risk of falls, which is a serious concern for the elderly. In fact, around 40% of older adults experience falls each year.

Traditionally, specialists have recommended specific balance exercises to help prevent these falls. These exercises focus on teaching individuals how to swiftly adjust their posture in response to unexpected shifts, such as a sudden push.

However, the equipment traditionally used for these exercises has been bulky, expensive, and complex, limiting its accessibility to general public outside professional settings. But recent advancements may offer a solution.

A team led by Assistant Professor Masataka Yamamoto from the Tokyo University of Science has developed an innovative device that could make balance training more accessible.

Dubbed the Wearable Balance Exercise Device (WBED), it functions somewhat like electronic suspenders that nudge wearers gently from side to side, training them to maintain their balance against unexpected shifts.

This device is designed to be lightweight, portable, and user-friendly, making it suitable for both home use and during therapy sessions.

To test the effectiveness of the WBED, researchers conducted an experiment with 18 healthy men who were divided into two groups.

One group used the actual WBED while the other group used a dummy device that did not provide any real assistance. The participants’ balance was assessed both before and after the training period.

The study found significant improvements in balance among those who trained with the real WBED. Participants were better able to maintain their balance when unexpectedly pushed, indicating that the device effectively enhances one’s ability to react to sudden changes in balance.

The significance of this development extends beyond preventing falls among the elderly. It also holds potential benefits for individuals undergoing physical therapy, as well as athletes who require excellent balance and coordination for their sports.

The ability to train with such a device at home makes it a practical option for daily exercises, thereby potentially reducing the risk of injuries associated with falls.

Moreover, this device is particularly relevant as populations in many countries, like Japan, continue to age. Technologies that can improve quality of life and enhance health outcomes are increasingly important.

The introduction of the WBED represents a promising advancement in the field of health and rehabilitation for seniors. It not only aids in fall prevention but also opens up possibilities for its use in sports training and rehabilitation scenarios.

This development is a step towards helping older adults maintain their independence and safeguarding them from falls, contributing positively to their overall health and mobility.

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