Increased susceptibility to falling is one of the most serious problems associated with ageing. Approximately one third of people aged 65 years and over living in the community fall at least once a year, with up to one fifth of these people suffering multiple falls.
Our balance and falls research focuses on vision, leg sensation, lower limb strength, reaction time and postural stability to understand additional risk factors. We also look at footwear-surface interactions, confusion and dementia, eyewear, hospital settings, fear and risk-taking behaviour.
Multiple factors play a role in falls and related injuries, however poor balance is the cause of the majority of falls in older adults.
Human balance depends on the interaction of our senses of sight, touch, etc. and our ability to control the movement of our bodies. These abilities decline significantly as we age, which can lead to falls, even when there are no identifiable neurological or musculoskeletal problems.
Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death and hospitalisation in people aged 65 years and over. At least 40% of people who have been hospitalised because of a fall require subsequent care in a nursing home. A further 10% need ongoing assistance at home from community services.
The rate of falling in older people living in nursing homes is even higher, with various studies reporting fall rates of between 40% and 56% in elderly residents each year.
We aim to enhance understanding of human balance through investigations of the sensory and motor systems.
The Falls and Balance Research Group, directed by Professor Stephen Lord, and the Migliaccio Group, explore different aspects of the effects of vision, sensation and vestibular function on balance while standing and walking in different groups of people.
Our research into the vestibular system, which involves galvanic vestibular stimulation while people are walking, is elucidating the role of navigation during gait. We are also conducting research that involves shaking the head while completing a visual task to better understand the vestibulo-ocular reflex, which allows vision to remain stable while the head is moving.
Identification of factors that increase an individual’s risk of falling is vital for prevention of falls and injuries. Our current studies in this area investigate the physiology (vision, strength, sensation, speed, balance) of standing, walking, stepping reactions, trips and slips, and for the design safe footwear for older adults. We are also looking at behavioural (high versus low-risk taking tendencies) factors.
Research is underway to develop, implement and systematically evaluate falls and injury prevention strategies for hospital patients and other groups of people known to be at an increased risk of falls.
We have developed and tested a battery of physiological tests to identify those at risk of falling which is capable of predicting elderly fallers with an accuracy of 75%. This physiological profile assessment (FallScreen) is now used widely both clinically and in fall prevention trials throughout Australia and across the world.