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Virtual reality, treadmill training may prevent falls in elderly

Combining virtual reality and treadmill training is likely to help prevent falls in older adults better than treadmill training alone, suggests a research.

The intervention, which combines the physical and cognitive aspects of walking, consists of a camera that captures the movement of participants’ feet and projects it onto a screen in front of the treadmill, so that participants may ‘see’ their feet walking on the screen in real time.

“Our approach combines treadmill exercise and virtual reality to help improve both physical mobility and cognitive aspects that are important for safe walking,” said Anat Mirelman from Tel Aviv University, in Israel.

As many as 60-80 per cent of older adults with mild cognitive impairment, dementia or Parkinson’s disease, fall at least once a year, which causes them injuries, loss of independence, disability, and even death, the researchers said.

“Falls in older people often occur because of tripping and poor obstacle negotiation while walking. Older people’s ability to negotiate obstacles can be impaired because of age-related decline in cognitive abilities like motor planning, divided attention, executive control, and judgment,” said Mirelman.

The game-like simulation has been designed to reduce the risk of falls in older adults by including real life challenges such as avoiding and stepping over obstacles like puddles or hurdles, and navigating pathways.

The findings showed that in the six months after training, participants in the virtual reality group had a 42 per cent reduction in the rate of falls compared to the treadmill only group.

“We found that virtual reality plus treadmill training helped to reduce fall frequency and fall risk for at least six months after training,” Mirelman noted.