August 25, 2016

How I Learned to Turn My Head While Walking

I was able to look straight forward while I was in rehab because my PT had me walk in wide uncluttered spaces.  When I went home I learned that if I turned my head while walking outdoors, I stumbled or drifted in the direction my head was turned.  But I want to turn my head to look at a store window or talk to the person walking next to me.

Being afraid to look around while walking made me hold my head still.  This made my neck stiff.
I conquered each problem with its own strategy.  1) Every morning I slowly and gently move my head in circles while sitting.  This loosens my neck muscles while eliminating the possibility that I will fall.  2) I forced myself to look in store windows when I walk.  I began by turning my head for one second.  As I repeatedly turned my head to look at window displays my brain began to process this movement without losing the ability to monitor if I was drifting to the side.  These two strategies have eliminated the icky feeling I used to get when I turned my head while walking.  I will use them until I die because they allow me to participate in fun activities - window shopping and socializing while walking without slamming into friends and family.

Mirelman and associates confirmed the relationship between mobility and cognition (1).  Older adults with a history of falls had significantly fewer falls six months after walking with virtual reality feedback that added a cognitive component.  While walking on a treadmill, experimental subjects could see their foot movements projected on a screen as they responded to simulated obstacles, distractors, and multiple pathways.  Control subjects who just walked on a treadmill for an equal amount of time did not experience a decrease in falls.  The awareness of and ability to respond to environmental challenges is an important part of being able to walk safely.

1.  Mirelman A, Rochester L, Maidan I, et al. Addition of a non-invasive virtual reality component to
     treadmill training to reduce fall risk in older adults (V-TIME): a randomized controlled trial.
     www.thelancet,com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS140-6736(16)31325-3/abstract.

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