Playing catch may help to reduce falls

Catching a weighted medicine ball can improve balance and may help prevent falls in the elderly, according to two studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Principal Investigator Alexander Aruin, Ph.D., a professor of physical therapy, has been studying whether special training or exercises could enhance the kinds of anticipatory adjustments people typically make to help prevent falls. The elderly are less likely to anticipate falls and/or absorb jostling.

Aruin and his colleagues asked a group of healthy young adults to stand and catch a medicine ball. In a second study, they asked the same of a group of healthy older adults. The researchers measured the electrical activity of leg and trunk muscles to look for differences in the two age groups' ability to make postural adjustments both before and after a single short training session.

Training-related improvements were seen in both groups. In older adults, researchers found that participants also improved at a physical task that was not part of the training.

“There was a transfer effect,” said Aruin, whose work was set to be published in Electromyography and Kinesiology and Experimental Brain Research.