Falling among older adults—it's a problem. You would think that with all of the available information and technology, there would simply be fewer falls among older adults each year. But you would be an optimist. According to the CDC, each year 40% of seniors fall (up from 30% ten years ago). I was thinking about this during a few visits to assisted living communities this past week when the tour guide mentioned the personal, carefully designed "chair exercise" program.
Let's just scan a few much-syndicated items from the past one week—all from newly published studies that researchers initiated under the theory (I'll bet), that behavioral change among seniors and the senior-related industries could apply. Each study is linked in its title.
Pave a few obvious pathways to a better life: Some conclusions are obvious. First of all, for those who can walk when they move into senior housing, especially independent living communities, they just need to do more walking—whether it's group walking, mall walking, or even supervised treadmill use. Second, some strength training of legs as well as arms would seem to be included sensibly in a program beyond just chair exercises. Finally, seniors should be encouraged to practice standing and sitting to improve speed. Group practice could also reveal dizziness and medication issues. (And I am not talking about handing folks 1-pound weights three times per week to raise one arm up and down.)
Not so obvious: How about correlating skill improvement with fear reduction? What I'd like to see, though, is research based on before-and-after studies to see if practicing a skill mitigates fear of falling as well as improves "basic physical capability." If it's the case that exercise generally improves perceived well-being, then does improving basic capability improve a sense of security and confidence among the elderly who are fearful? And are most of the fearful actually women who spend most of their time indoors?
Relate tech use, fear mitigation, and improved health: To my knowledge, no actual study has been published about the relationship between use of technologies—e.g., PERS, sensor-based monitoring, fall detection devices—and reduction in a senior's fear of falling. If people are at the lower end of the risk curve but worry about falling, one aspect of that worry must be based on fear of not being able to get up on their own or perhaps not be found for hours or days. Vendors have anecdotal commentary from users of technology that they "feel safer" with it than without, but those are anecdotes. Researchers could partner with vendors in studies, not just about whether individuals are safer with the technology activated, but whether they feel safer. And finally, if technology vendors want to promote the benefits of their technology in the context of safety, wouldn't it make sense to combine "reduction in fear of falling" with advice about how physical capabilities can be improved to really reduce mortality risk?
By Laurie Orlov
Aging in Place Technology Watch Blog
[First posted September 12, 2010, at Laurie's Aging in Place Technology Watch Web site.]