Aerospace simulation technology may help medical researchers better understand how and why people fall.
The iDAPT Centre for Rehabilitation Research, which opened this week in Toronto, is considered one of the most technologically advanced rehabilitation research centers. It provides researchers with safe and controlled settings in which they are able to recreate those environmental challenges experienced daily by seniors and people with disabilities. Among the various technologies in the 13 different laboratories is a six-degree-of-freedom motion simulator. The facility can recreate environments including winter blizzards and crowded urban streets.
The CBC says falls are a leading cause of injury and hospitalization among seniors. To date, the iDAPT researchers have established a link between hearing loss and increased incidences of falling. They intend to further study how hearing loss affects balance.
Johns Hopkins University researchers say that hearing difficulties have been linked to health problems in seniors — not only falls, but also a greater risk of dementia and poor cognitive function. Frank Lin, an assistant professor of otolaryngology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins, told Businessweek that the brains of those with poor hearing have to work harder to decode and process sound. “If you brain is having to reallocate resources to hearing, it probably comes at the expense of cognition or thinking ability,” he said.
An estimated 8.8 million Americans in their 70s were found to have hearing loss in both ears and 10.8 million had hearing loss in at least one ear, according to the Johns Hopkins study:
‘iDAPT research will produce new knowledge, more practical technologies and innovative treatments that will reduce accidents and illness and help people overcome disability. We can help people live healthier, more active and more independent lives,’ said Dr. Geoff Fernie, Institute Director, The Toronto Rehabilitation Institute/University Health Network. ‘This research will push the boundaries of rehabilitation science in Canada and beyond.’
Fernie says research about falling is inadequate. “It’s a huge problem for people — more than half of us will be disabled at some point before we die,” he said in an interview with the National Post.
Jenny Campos, the facility’s chief scientist, says the laboratories enable them to “take careful measurements of balance and careful measurements of hearing … and we can really evaluate what happens when people have to listen and walk at the same time.” The researchers are hoping to use the facility for varied investigations, such as determining the effects of brain injury on movement and designing safer stairs.
One of the researchers is testing a novel hearing aid linked to special glasses that track eye movement. The device is designed to increase the volume of sound coming from the direction in which the user is looking.
“Until now, our ability to study how people with disabilities and older people function in the real world has been limited,” says Dr. Alex Mihaildis, a Toronto Rehab researcher. He adds,
iDAPT allows us to do research in a way that we were never able to do before. We will be able to safely study the complex interactions between people with disabilities and their environments so we can provide better treatments and equip them with innovative and well-designed assistive devices that will help them overcome the everyday challenges they face.
Images from Sid Tabak and Toronto Rehab, used with permission.