Falls and balance


Understanding human balance to prevent falls


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.

Common causes

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.


Can high dose of vitamin C boost recovery after balance organ injury?

We will address loss of balance, a pressing health-related issue that affects quality of life in ~5% of the population. Once the balance organ is injured or degrades with age, no treatments restore function. We have identified a nerve-pathway crucial for balance system adjustment & self-repair. The sensitivity of this pathway can be increased with vitamin C. We will determine if vitamin C treatment can improve recovery after balance loss and potentially translate to the clinic.

Understanding and preventing physical and cognitive decline and falls in older people with dementia

Falls and functional decline are common in people with dementia. Falls are more likely to result in injury, death and institutionalisation when compared to older people without dementia. There is limited evidence that falls can be prevented in people with dementia. Strategies aimed at maintaining independence and preventing decline and falls are urgently needed. This research will a) further our understanding of fall risk and functional decline and b) explore novel fall and decline prevention programs, including the use of technology in older people with dementia.

Australian and New Zealand Hip Fracture Registry (ANZHFR)

There are approximately 17,000 new hip fractures in Australia and 4,000 in New Zealand annually. The cost of the event is enormous, both for the individual and their family, as well as the health care system. There is variation in models of hip fracture care within and between States and Territories (Aus) and District Health Boards (NZ). Much of what happens in the acute and rehabilitation settings impacts directly on the longer term outcomes for the person with the fracture. The ANZHFR allows for timely comparison of meaningful data that can be used by providers of care to understand clinical practice, and trigger a case for change in places where improvement can be made.

Interrelationships between physical, cognitive and psychological function and falls

The overall research objective of our ongoing research in this area is to develop a clearer understanding of inter-related underlying mechanisms of the effects across the triad of physical, psychological, cognitive and neural impairments on falls and healthy ageing.

Falls, ageing and dementia in Indigenous Australians

We aim to identify determinants for the high prevalence of dementia in Indigenous Australians, and will now extend these findings by exploring determinants for the high prevalence of falls.

Innovative approaches to prevent falls in older people

Physical exercise training has been the primary focus of single interventions trials to reduce falls and advance healthy ageing. However, high attrition rates suggest that current approaches are not sufficient to guarantee long-term adherence to exercise in the majority of older adults.

Novel methods for fall prediction in older people

Technological advances have enabled less expensive ways to quantify physical fall risk in the homes of older people.

Treating dizziness in older people

Despite effective treatments being available, up to 40% of older people with reported dizziness remain undiagnosed and untreated. A multidisciplinary assessment battery, with new validated assessments of vestibular impairments is required for diagnosing and treating older people with dizziness. This project will therefore aim to conduct a randomised-control trial of a multifaceted dizziness intervention based on a multidisciplinary assessment, and develop a multiple profile assessment of dizziness for use in Specialist Clinics.

Koori Active and Healthy Ageing Project

The project examines how to implement evidence based healthy brain ageing (dementia prevention) programs in urban and regional Aboriginal communities.

What else is happening in Falls and balance research at NeuRA?