Researchers at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) have published encouraging results of their reactive balance training program that shows a 60 per cent risk reduction in falls due to trips and slips in older adults, in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences. This program is now being replicated to help those with Parkinson’s disease, and early indicators show promising results.
The reactive balance training program works on a retraining-the-brain protocol developed from learning on a purpose-built slip-and-trip walkway, the only one of its kind in the world. Participants, supported by a safety harness walk along a pathway which has a series of unexpected booby traps – boards spring up to cause a trip and sliding tiles create a slip – to which the brain and the body need to respond quickly. The learned response mechanism helps to retrain the brain to stay agile, respond faster to potential hazards, and correct its balance to prevent a fall.
NeuRA has replicated the slip-and-trip study to reduce falls risks in people with Parkinson’s in a study called SAFE-PD, which is already showing promising results.
More than 80,000 people are living with Parkinson’s disease in Australia, and of these, approximately two thirds will fall each year, resulting in injuries, hospitalisations, and even death, which is devastating, widespread and costly. The prevalence of Parkinson’s disease is expected to double between 2010 and 2040, and the associated human and economic burden will also grow.
NeuRA’s goal is to develop innovative therapies to improve balance and prevent falls in people with Parkinson’s, such as the SAFE-PD Study.