January 23, 2017 7:45 pm
Updated: August 1, 2017 9:14 pm

U of S researchers hope to lessen the severity of a fall among senior citizens

WATCH ABOVE: A new program at the University of Saskatchewan is hoping to help seniors lessen the severity of falls they may take. It teaches strengthening skills as well as how to try to control the fall. Eighty per cent of emergency room visits by seniors are due to falls. Meaghan Craig reports.

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We’ve all done it. Taken a tumble or two without serious injury but researchers say the older you get, the more risk there is associated with a fall.

For a senior citizen, a simple slip could be life-altering but a team at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) is hoping to change those odds.

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In September, researchers launched a study asking for female participants that were 60 years old or older. Inside their lab at the Physical Activity Complex (PAC) on campus, set-up for an evaluation took longer than the actual test itself.

Kay Robertson, a 66-year-old who volunteered to be part of the study appeared as though she was on the set of a science fiction movie and didn’t mind one bit.

“Why not? I’ve got the time and I might as well help them.”

Robertson is one of the youngest senior citizens to take part in the U of S study – the oldest was 92. According to researchers, 42 women over the age of 60 have devoted their time to help them find ways to lessen the severity of a fall for senior citizens.

“One of the best predictors of whether somebody is going to fall,  is they’ve already had a fall,” Joel Lanovaz, associate professor with the college of kinesiology at the U of S, said.

“If they’ve already fallen, there’s a really good chance they’re going to have another one.”

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Robertson admits to taking two pretty bad spills in recent memory and like most seniors was just walking when she fell.

She says other than a few bruises she didn’t hurt herself and if she had – 50 per cent of the time researchers say the injury occurs to the person’s upper body.

“Falling forward is the most common type of fall and the automatic reaction is to put your hands out,” Cathy Arnold, professor at the school of physical therapy at the U of S, said.

“Two main types of injures will happen – you’ll break your arm or you lose control and you may hit your head or cause other trauma to your chest or shoulders.”

Women are more likely to fall and their injuries sustained will be more severe than that of men. According to Arnold, this is until the age of 80 when fall rates equalize.

Falls are also the most common reason senior citizens are admitted to hospitals, in fact approximately 80 per cent of the time.

“Most seniors end up in the emergency department so it’s a huge issue not only for the senior that sustain falls but also the health care system,” Arnold said.

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With an aging population, researchers are hoping to get ahead of the curve with computer models and ultimately reduce the chances that a fall will be catastrophic for a senior  – with something as simple as exercise.

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“Some really basic types of things just improve their current upper body strength and reaction times to be able to react as they would normally do – just faster and with more strength to absorb that landing,” Lanovaz said.

The findings from the study are expected to be complete in the spring just as the team launches a second study with both men and women.

“Something good will come out of it not only for me but for other people my age and older,” Robertson said.

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