For the elderly, a fall can alter – or threaten – life permanently. Thirty percent of older adults living in a typical community, and as many as 60%-80% of older adults with mild cognitive impairment, dementia or Parkinson’s disease, fall at least once a year. In the US alone, over 700,000 people 65 and older are hospitalized and suffer traumas because of a fall. According to OECD statistics, falls in adults aged 65 and over account for about 2% of all healthcare expenditures in high-income countries.
Even without injuries, falls often lead to fear, with seniors avoiding leaving the house and becoming shut-ins, which in turn often leads to inactivity, muscle weakness, depression, impaired balance and gait, more falls and more social isolation, according to numerous studies.
A team of researchers in Israel, led by dr. Anat Mirelman, claims to have found the solution to this problem, thanks to virtual reality.
By combining this with a specific training on the treadmill, the risk of falls in elder people with Parkinson’s disease, dementia or other cognitive impairment seems to have reduced dramatically.
According to the researchers, older people’s ability to negotiate obstacles can be impaired because of age-related decline in cognitive abilities like motor planning, divided attention, executive control, and judgment, and this leads to the increased number of falls.
Providing training for the elderly in a safe environment where to practice their walking could improve their walking skills, and benefits are even greater when immersed in virtual reality, which allows to see one’s own steps on the screen.
Researchers analyzed data from 282 participants from five countries. All participants were aged 60-90, half of them had Parkinson’s disease and some had mild cognitive impairment, but all of them were able to walk at least 5 minutes unassisted and on stable medication.
Approximately half of the participants were assigned to treadmill training with virtual reality, the rest was asked to undergo treadmill training alone.
The results were astonishing. The group that used virtual reality witnessed a drop in the number of falls of 42%, whereas in the other group the same rate was much lower.
Thus, technology shows off once again as a great ally of science and cyber, but also of health and everyday life. Above all, it should be more systemically integrated into the students’ education.
Training to entrepreneurship, being well aware and up-to-date with the newest technological innovation, can be an astoundingly valid help in searching one’s best placement in the labour market.