Background: An ability to predict risk of future falling is needed in order to target high-risk individuals for preventive intervention. The purpose of this study was to compare the ability of different measures of postural balance to predict risk of falling prospectively in an ambulatory and independent elderly population.
Methods: Balance tests were performed on 100 volunteers (aged 62-96), and falling was then monitored prospectively over a one-year period. The balance testing comprised measurements of: (a) spontaneous postural sway, (b) induced anterior-posterior sway, (c) induced medial-lateral sway, (d) anticipatory adjustments preceding volitional arm movements, (e) timed one-leg stance, and (f) performance on a clinical balance assessment scale. Small pseudorandom platform motions were used to perturb balance in the induced-sway tests. Using force plates, the spontaneous- and induced-sway responses were quantified in terms of the amplitude, speed, and mean frequency of the center-of-pressure displacement; input-output models were also used to parameterize the induced-sway performance.
Results: Although a number of measures showed evidence of significant differences between fallers and nonfallers, the differences were most pronounced for measures related to the control of lateral stability. Lateral spontaneous-sway amplitude (blindfolded conditions) was found to be the single best predictor of future falling risk, particularly for the large group of falls that were precipitated by a biomechanical perturbation. This measure was able to predict future falling risk with moderate accuracy, even in those individuals with no recent history of falling.
Conclusions: The results suggest that control of lateral stability may be an important area for fall-preventative intervention. The ability of a simple and safe force-plate measure of spontaneous postural sway to predict future falling risk suggests a possible clinical application as a preliminary screening tool for risk of falling.