Using science to prevent falling – you can help

22 February, 2018

Have you ever thought about how we stay upright? It is something that many of us just take for granted, but even at the best of times it poses quite a challenge to the human body.

To walk, to balance, to stay on our two feet, we use a number of different parts of our bodies – we use our eyesight to see and comprehend the surface we are on, the vestibular apparatus in our ears senses whether we are upright or not, and we use our limbs to constantly sense our environment. All of these provide feedback which our brains put together and interpret to then activate the right muscles and place our feet in the right place. Unfortunately, for many people with MS, these systems don’t always work in unison which leads to a high risk of falls.

Research shows that up to 60% of people with MS will have experienced a fall in the previous six months and more than 30% are ‘frequent fallers’ who experience three or more falls per year. Falls not only result in injury, but the fear of falling can also severely limit the confidence and activities of people with MS, reducing their quality of life.

Effective strategies to reduce falls are greatly needed and a group of MS Research Australia-funded scientists have been working hard in this area. They have previously shown that people with MS may have considerable capacity for neuromuscular plasticity – or in other words, they have the ability, through the right exercises and training, to change and adapt the way their brain and muscles perform tasks.

They have used this knowledge to develop some innovative training programs and are now testing them in clinical trials. To successfully complete these trials they need more participants to get involved, particularly in NSW.

One trial is testing an interactive step training program to reduce falls in people with MS. Following a successful pilot study showing that step training can improve mobility and balance, they have rolled out a much larger study to confirm whether the training can prevent falls in people with MS. The study is currently recruiting in Sydney and Canberra, with further trial sites potentially opening in both Hobart and Melbourne – so watch this space.

The study, known as i-FIMS, is a 6 month home based programme involved step training exercises using a computerised mat attached to a TV or computer to deliver interactive game based exercises.

Adults with a confirmed diagnosis of MS, who are able to walk at least 50m either with or without an aid, and are able to stand unaided for at least 1 minute are eligible for the trial if they have had no worsening of MS symptoms in the past 30 days. For more information or to get involved visit the mstrials website.

The second trial is looking at combining whole body vibration with exercise to prevent falls. Whole body vibration is thought to stimulate the nerve sensors in the body, enhancing the way they communicate with the nerves and muscles to improve muscle control.

This trial is testing the effectiveness of home-based whole-body vibration training to improve mobility outcomes and reduce falls compared to standard exercises in people with MS.

In this 12-week programme participants will carry out four exercises at home while standing either on the ground or on a vibrating platform at least three times a week.

This trial is looking for adults with a confirmed diagnosis of MS, who can walk either aided or unaided and with no relapse in the past 3 months.

Both of these studies provide an easy way for people with MS to get involved in research that can potentially benefit the whole MS community. Together we can do so much more.

These are just two of the trials listed on the mstrials website. This site is constantly updated with new trials, so make sure you check back regularly to see if there are any trials that appeal to you. If if you are considering getting involved in a research study, particularly trials that may affect other medications that you are taking, make sure you talk to your treating doctor first.

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