In January 2012, Professor Stephen Lord, Dr Phu Hoang and colleagues at Neuroscience Research Australia, Sydney, received an MS Research Australia project grant to investigate the risk factors for falls in MS.
They have now published their findings which will help to underpin effective fall prevention strategies for people with MS.
Up to 60% of people with MS experience falls, and a large proportion of these falls result in an injury requiring medical attention. Fear of falling can also lead to people with MS severely restricting their activities, therefore preventing falls is a high priority.
While many of the symptoms of MS can contribute to the risk of falling, such as visual and balance problems, understanding exactly which combination of symptoms pose the greatest risk is absolutely crucial to designing effective interventions to prevent falls.
By collecting information on falls over a six month period, as well as tests of balance, psychological, health and lifestyle factors, the team showed impaired standing, leaning, balance and reduced fine motor control were the most significant predictors of frequent falling in people with MS. The team have published their findings in the journal Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Importantly their results showed that measures used to discriminate between elderly people who fall and those who don’t, such as vision, lower limb proprioception (sensing where your limbs are), knee strength and reaction time appear to be less important in discriminating between frequent and non-frequent fallers in people with MS.
Their findings highlight the need for clinical assessment of both physical and cognitive (thinking) risk factors in people with MS and the design of fall intervention strategies that are specifically tailored for people with MS.
Based on these findings, the team are now working towards a clinical trial to test a new intervention strategy to prevent falls in people with MS