Astronaut training could help prevent falls among seniors, report says

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Seniors at risk of falling could soon benefit from some pretty far-out therapies, courtesy of NASA and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI), according to a recent project report.

Astronauts who spend time in space typically have trouble readjusting to earth's gravity, according to a recent NSBRI release. The gravitational changes can cause dizziness and balance issues that sometimes take weeks to overcome. Researchers at NASA and NSBRI have been working on a new approach, called an Adaptability Training System (ATS), that they hope will help astronauts overcome these problems more quickly. A treadmill is mounted on a moveable platform in front of a large projection screen showing images of streets or hallways or a room. As the person walks, the image moves—along with the platform, simulating balance disturbances.

Though developed for astronauts, researchers say the system could have enormous benefit for seniors and those with balance issues. Up to 40% of nursing home admissions can be attributed to falls.

“There are definitely applications in the clinical world in terms of fall prevention with the elderly population," says Dr. Helen Cohen, co-investigator on the ATS project.

More information on this type of research is available at the NSBRI Web site.