NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Falls are a major cause of broken bones and brain injuries, especially for people with diseases like Parkinson’s.
The problem is usually a loss of balance, but as CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reports, there’s a new technique that prevents falls by actually trying to knock people off their feet.
The contraption makes it look like the patient is getting ready to go skydiving or perhaps bungee jumping, but it’s actually part of a study to prevent potentially serious falls.
It’s especially important for Harry Greenwald, who suffers from Parkinson’s.
“There have been times when I could feel my forward foot not quite grasping the next tread on the stairs and there are times when we’re walking down the sidewalk and I have to remind myself for posture issues I should be raising my head and looking ahead because Parkinson’s has got me looking down a lot,” Greenwald told CBS2.
40 percent of people over 65 suffer a fall at least once a year, and that number is much higher for people with Parkinson’s because the disease affects their gait and balance.
Dr. Sunil Argawal at Columbia University has devised a system to teach Parkinson’s patients how to keep from falling by training them to recover when the elaborate contraption tries to disrupt their sense of balance.
“We give them the experience of being able to recover better from the momentary loss of balance and to be able to sort of develop that skill set,” he said. “Kind of to train their neuromuscular system to be able to be more responsive when a fall appears.”
In fact, Dr. Argawal’s study showed that just one training session substantially improved Parkinson’s patients’ balance and ability to avoid falls. The harness prevents Harry and others from actually falling, of course, and the better they get the stronger the jolts come from different directions.
Harry did have to learn to trust the device.
“It works,” he said. “The harness really is going to keep me up. It was hard to ride, then I relaxed a little and said ‘okay, I’m not really going to hit the ground here’.”
Harry adds he’s more confident walking, and especially going up and down stairs. The balance-disruption system is just at Columbia for now, but it could be rolled out to other medical centers soon.
You only have to prevent a few falls in Parkinson’s patients to render the treatment cost-effective.