University of Cumbria researchers have been awarded more than £130,000 to fund a project aimed at preventing falls in older people.

The three-year project will examine walking patterns of people aged 65 and over, and how head and eye movements can lead to falls. 

Researchers will specifically explore the relationship between head position, visual focus and balance in older people when they walk, with the hope of finding solutions that could reduce the risk fall in older people.

Around one in three adults over 65 who live at home will have at least one fall a year, and about half of these will have more frequent falls.  

It has been shown that a large proportion of falls in older adults are because of trips, slips, and missteps, which mostly occur during walking. A fall will result in increased fear of falling, consequently limiting the individual’s activities and therefore reducing their independence.  

The institution’s Active Ageing Research Group (AARG), led by Dr Susan Dewhurst, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Physiology, and Theo Bampouras, Senior Lecturer in Sport Mechanics and Performance Analysis, has been awarded a Major Medical Research Grant of £136,051 by the Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust to launch this project.

Theo said: “This grant is a great success for AARG and it will allow us to investigate how older individuals walk and the fall risk posed by this activity. This, in turn, will enable us to examine ways to reduce that risk, and will help people maintain their independence in older age. It will also allow for another full-time research student to join AARG, further increasing the research culture in the university.”

Eye movement and visual information during walking is an essential aspect of the project and AARG has joined forces with Dr Tim Donovan, from Medical Imaging Perception and Expertise group, to utilitise his expertise.

Theo added: “We are delighted to collaborate with Tim on this project. His vast experience in eye movement research adds another important dimension to the work that we do, and this successful partnership will pave the way for future work in this vital area of research.”

The project will also see the appointed research student complete part of the study at Foro Italico University of Rome, under the supervision of Professor Andrea Macaluso and Dr Luca Laudani.

Susan said: “This is an attractive and unique opportunity which will enable the student to enrich their PhD experience, and will further strengthen our links with this institution. This project and the exciting work and opportunities it presents would have not been possible without the financial support of the Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust, and we are extremely grateful to the trust for awarding us this grant.”

John Parkinson is chairman of the Dowager Countess Eleanor Peel Trust. He said: “The trust was delighted to support researchers from the university with such an interesting proposal which aligned well with the trust’s strategic objectives. It congratulated the applicants for gaining the award in competition with applications from a number of universities.”