Impaired perceived timing of falls in the elderly

Gait Posture. 2018 Jan;59:40-45. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2017.09.037. Epub 2017 Sep 28.


Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths and hospitalizations, with older adults at an increased risk. As humans age, physical changes and health conditions make falls more likely. While we know how the body reflexively responds to prevent injury during a fall, we know little about how people perceive the fall itself. We previously found that young adults required a fall to precede a comparison sound stimulus by approximately 44ms to perceive the two events as simultaneous. This may relate to common anecdotal reports suggesting that humans often describe distortions in their perception of time - time seems to slow down during a fall - with very little recollection of how and when the fall began. Here we examine whether fall perception changes with age. Young (19-25y) and older (61-72y) healthy adults made temporal order judgments identifying whether the onset of their fall or the onset of a comparison sound came first to measure the point of subjective simultaneity. Results show that fall perception is nearly twice as slow for older adults, where perturbation onset has to precede sound onset by ∼88ms to appear coincident, compared to younger adults (∼44ms). We suggest that such age-related differences in fall perception may relate to increased fall rates in older adults. We conclude that a better understanding of how younger versus older adults perceive falls may identify important factors for innovative fall prevention strategies and rehabilitative training exercises to improve fall awareness.

Keywords: Aging; Falls; Multisensory integration; Postural perturbation; Temporal order; Vestibular.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls*
  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult