Falls in seniors is a leading cause on demands on the healthcare system and impacts mortality. They can be caused by a range of issues, from reaction time slowing by ageing, vision changes, poor balance due to injury, blood pressure changes or as a side effect of medication.
The biggest problem, however, is that the fear of falling also inhibits future activities. This fear limits movement which in turn increases the chance of a fall. Exercise is key.
Researcher, Michèle Mattle, a movement scientist at the University of Zurich has found a 31 percent reduction in falls and a 37 percent in fall risk for those aged 65 and over in a review of clinical trials on dance-based mind-motor activities.
Mattle was positively surprised by the consistency of the results. Previous research in falls prevention and exercise had suggested that interventions such as multitasking activities were promising falls-prevention strategies, but it was unclear if dance-based mind-motor activities would lead to comparable results.
Dance-based mind-motor activities are those where there is upright movements that emphasise balance and use music or an inner rhythm, including instructions or choreography, and social interaction.
Tai chi meets those criteria, but so do a variety of dance-based activities, including ballroom and folk dancing and many other dance forms that are very accessible.
Mattle’s findings now lay an important base for the further development of public health strategies in the field of falls prevention.
“Multitasking, the ability to do two movements at once, diminishes with age. Many falls happen when a person is walking and something unexpected happens and the person needs to react quickly,” Mattle said.
"The movements in dance-based mind-motor activities are intentional, focused and involve the constant attention control for the shifting body weight."
“It calls for good training to keep dynamic balance in unexpected situations and for enhancing reaction time.”
Balance training helps a person react faster when losing control and this is a huge benefit particularly for older adults where a fall would impact quality of life.