AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 1, 2017

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For Geriatric Falls, 'Brain Speed' May Matter More Than Lower Limb Strength

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When assessing an older person’s fall risk, brain processing speed matters, University of Michigan researchers found

“Why does a 30-year-old hit their foot against the curb in the parking lot and take a half step and recover, whereas a 71-year-old falls and an 82-year-old falls awkwardly and fractures their hip?” asks James Richardson, MD, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Musculoskeletal Center. For the last several years, Richardson and his team set out to answer these questions, attempting to find which specific factors determine whether, and why, an older person successfully recovers from a trip or stumble. All this in an effort to help prevent the serious injuries, disability and even death, that too often follow accidental falls. “Falls research has been sort of stuck, with investigators re-massaging over 100 identified fall ‘risk factors,’ many of which are repetitive and circular,” Richardson explains. “For example, a 2014 review lists the following three leading risk factors for falls: poor gait/balance, taking a large number of prescription medications and having a history of a fall in the prior year.” 

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