Preventing falls by training our brain 43



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The risk of falling and a deterioration in our ability to walk briskly and securely are two of the more worrying aspects of ageing. While these faults are generally blamed on our legs, there’s plenty of medical evidence suggesting we should be looking more closely at our brains as well.

As the following Australian evidence suggests, falls and mobility issues are a growing problem.

  • 1 in 3 adults aged 65+ fall each year and the risk increases with age (the figure is 45% for 75+)
  • Severity of injury increases with age and is more common in woman
  • Fractures were the most common type of fall-related injury
  • Falls create a downward spiral, as fear of further falls limits mobility

Because the mind and body are so integrated, research has indicated that a decline in mobility and an increased likelihood of falling have been linked to a deterioration in overall cognitive ability, attention, speed and visual processing.

This could all be depressing news except for the fairly recent research which discovered that even ageing brains have plasticity, which means that they can be trained to improve their performance in specific areas. An improvement in our brain’s performance in the areas that control our walking and balance would have the effect of reducing the likelihood of falls and unsteadiness.

Dr Michael Merzenich, who wrote a chapter on Brain Plasticity in our book “How to stay Healthy, Active and Sharp in Retirement”, heads a company called Brain HQ. This company designs brain training exercises which can improve the performance of specific brain functions. For example, you can do their on- line exercises that can improve your memory, make your brain work faster or improve your visual – spatial system, which is critical to balance.

Brain HQ has developed a number of mental training exercises to help people reduce their chances of falling and to improve their walking speed and mobility. Now if you wanted to make some improvements to your performance in these areas, it requires more than 10 – 15 minutes per week playing computer games. You need to commit to a regular schedule of working on the various exercises – the online system will track your progress.

I found it empowering to discover that brain plasticity meant that we weren’t condemned to a fate of irreversible brain decline. If we are prepared to work at it consistently, there’s plenty of medical evidence to support the claims that even older brains can improve their performance.

This doesn’t mean that you should stop exercising and sit in front of a computer instead. When we’re over 60, exercise is no longer optional.

If you’d like to have a look at the various mental training exercises offered by Brain HQ, go to their web site at –

There are some free exercises there that you can do and if you want to take it further, you can sign up and pay a modest monthly fee. Some of the exercises that are good for walking and balance are – Double Decision, Visual Sweeps & Target Tracker.


Have you had a fall before? What happened? Do you think it could have been prevented? Do you exercise? Tell us below.

Paul McKeon

Paul McKeon is the founder of the website and the publisher of 3 books about lifestyle issues affecting people in their 50s, 60s and 70s. The books are titled – “The Rest of Your Life”, “Relationships in our 50s – 60s and beyond” and “How to stay Healthy, Active and Sharp in Retirement”. All the books can be purchased on his web site. He had a career in marketing, tourism, sports promotion and publishing in Australia, the UK and S.E. Asia. His books and website stress that a successful retirement is about more than good money management and people need to consider the important lifestyle issues if they are going to find lasting happiness.

  1. I hate when people phone me really early in the morning when I’m still in bed. I rush thinking it might be an emergency but dont have my balance. Have tried taking mobile to my bedside table but not comfortable doing that. We have had two close members of our family develop brain tumours and I’m not happy sleeping with phone near my head. Pretty sure this is how I am going to have my big fall one day, it nearly happened this morning again.

  2. This does not mention the different side effects of the tablets the doctors have us on – some of the blood pressure ones are real doozies

  3. Everyone over 60 should check out their house for fall hazards. Number 1 danger is slippery floors in bathrooms, and second is small rugs which can curl up at the edges and trip you. Take a walk around your house and look really mindfully at the floors – and get dangerous areas fixed. (And throw away those rugs !)

  4. I have twice fallen down the two sets of stairs at my house and now I have a clunky left hip but I still walk a lot but with a walking stick but hey we are all getting older and it comes with the territory and I even have a folding stick in the carry box on my little motorcycle.

  5. Training wheels and heaps of cushions tied around the middle should do the trick. Pad all walls and plenty of mattresses on the floor. Mind you as a skydiver, I could be a teensy weensy bit hypocritical.

  6. Broke a rib slipping on the bathroom floor a couple of months ago, then 3 weeks after that fractured my sternum because I was rushing and fell down a step and landed on the bar of the dog tramp, then 2 weeks after that fractured my big toe. They come in 3s. I fall because I rush, I rush because my life is so full, my bones break because my bone density is not what it once was. But I don’t intend changing my lifestyle. Have been thinking tai chi might help, but knowing me I’d break a leg doing it 🙂

  7. My bedroom door (after almost breaking my noes ) and I agree phone, torch (in case of blackout) and glasses always by my bed.

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