Measurement and training of fall-protective responses

Hip fractures represent a significant health problem for the elderly. While 90 per cent of hip fractures are caused by falls, only one to two per cent of falls result in hip fractures. The risk for fracture during a fall depends on the mechanics of the fall and the use of specific protective responses, including landing on outstretched hands, contracting the leg muscles to absorb energy and rotating to prevent impact to the pelvis. While these responses are known, knowledge is lacking on how these responses are affected by age and whether they can be enhanced through education and physical training. Chantelle Murnaghan is developing an exercise-based intervention program for the prevention of hip fractures resulting from falls. The research will focus on developing an improved understanding of fall protective responses, including how these responses are affected by age, and by sensory and cognitive variables. Given the safety constraints of conducting fall experiments with the elderly, Chantelle’s study will involve young and middle-aged men in a series of lab experiments involving sideways and backwards falls, followed by a training program in safe-landing strategies. Results from this novel study will provide valuable new information for the development of more effective hip fracture prevention programs for the elderly.