At the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth, researchers are doing something unusual: They’re making people fall down. It’s all happening at the Human Movement Performance Lab, where they’re mapping how people with Parkinson’s disease and other mobility issues react to jolts and falls.
Learning from a fall
Neva Fittz is 76 years old. She’s standing on a giant treadmill, getting clipped into a full-body harness. If she were to trip and fall, ropes that are secured to the walls and ceiling would catch and dangle her several feet above the ground. The image of Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible” comes to mind.
“There’s that certain amount of fear there, but you just think, ‘OK, if I’m going to fall, I have to catch myself,’” Fittz says.
Fittz is also wearing head-to-toe black spandex with 54 nickel-sized balls taped all across her body – from the top of her head all the way down to her ankles.
“This is the same technology they use in some of the movies these days. Avatar uses it. Back in the day, Shrek used it,” says Dr. Evan Papa, an assistant professor at the Health Science Center, a physical therapist and a principal investigator at UNT’s Human Movement Performance Lab.