Virtual Reality, Added to Treadmill Training, Lowers Fall Risk in Elders

Summary and Comment |
September 1, 2016

Virtual Reality, Added to Treadmill Training, Lowers Fall Risk in Elders

  1. Bruce Soloway, MD

Integration of cognitive and motor training lowered the incidence of falls.

  1. Bruce Soloway, MD

Older adults often fall due to problems negotiating obstacles; such falls can involve both cognitive and motor deficits. Interventions to prevent falls have targeted both types of impairment, but usually separately. To look at them together, researchers enrolled 282 older community-living adults (age range, 60–90) who reported at least two falls in the previous 6 months; participants were randomized to either traditional treadmill training or training on a treadmill outfitted with a virtual reality (VR) screen that displayed the actual position of the patient's feet and a program of simulated obstacles and distractors. Patients attended three 45-minute sessions weekly for 6 weeks; speed and duration of walking were progressively increased for all patients. The VR group was presented with progressively more difficult motor and cognitive challenges.

Patients in both groups reported fewer falls in the 6 months after training than in the 6 months before training (means, 6 vs. 12 falls in the VR group; 8 vs. 11 falls in the treadmill-only group). The difference between groups and the difference over time in the VR group were significant. Several gait measures that contribute to fall risk were significantly better immediately after training in the VR group than in the treadmill-only group, and some of these differences persisted 6 months later. Patients with Parkinson disease benefited more than patients in other subgroups on some measures.

Comment

In this study, integration of cognitive and motor training using virtual reality lowered the incidence of falls in older at-risk adults. The intervention appears to be safe and relatively inexpensive and could be applied widely if further study confirms its benefits.

Editor Disclosures at Time of Publication

  • Disclosures for Bruce Soloway, MD at time of publication Nothing to disclose

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