Newest Breakthrough in Fall Prevention: Tripping Seniors on Purpose

It’s not as malicious as it sounds. Rather, it’s what researchers at a university in Chicago are doing to address an estimated $30 billion in costs to treat falls among seniors each year, reports the Associated Press.

While conventional efforts to prevent falls have entailed certain exercises and classes to boost strength and balance, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) are tackling fall prevention from a different standpoint.

With a $1 million, five-year grant from the National Institute on Aging, UIC researchers have developed a lab-built treadmill system that trips people unexpectedly in an effort to build subconscious learning that may help seniors better avoid serious injury risk resulting from falls. 


Clive Pai, a physical therapy professor spearheading the research, dubs the method a potential “vaccine against falls.”

Demonstrating the technique using an 81-year-old  subject named Mary Kaye, Pai’s team taped sensors to Kaye’s arms and legs to allow her movements to be tracked and analyzed. She was also hooked up to an overhead cable to help her remain upright, if needed. 

After striding several paces, a student on the research team clicked the computer mouse to make a sliding section of the walkway move suddenly under Kaye’s feet. Kaye stumbled slightly but was able to keep her balance. 


The walkway stems from preliminary research from Pai published in June, which found 24 similar “trips” in just a single walkway session taught older adults to learn to catch themselves, thus reducing their chances of falling outside the lab by 50% up to a year later. 

While the treadmill technique will likely need a few more years of study to prove its effectiveness, researchers are confident the method might someday be incorporated into standard clinical care.  

Read more of AP’s coverage on the treadmill technique.

Written by Jason Oliva

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