Biomechanics professor striking the perfect balance

Andrew Laing in front of chalkboard with equations drawn on it.Andrew Laing doesn’t mind being a fall guy. For the biomechanics professor, the reputation simply comes with the territory.

Laing, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, has spent the last 10 years pioneering ways to minimize fall-related injuries among older adults. Working with the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging, his research is already changing the way seniors live.

Helping those at risk

Each year in Canada, seniors are hospitalized twice as often as the general population for traumatic brain injury resulting from a bad fall. Over 90% of hip fractures are due to falls.

“It’s a huge problem with the aging population,” said Laing, one of the Record’s 2013 Top 40 under 40 award recipients. “It’s very unlikely that a senior who fractures a hip will be able to return to pre-injury mobility levels.”

A balancing act

While Laing indicates that fall prevention is key, he is convinced there are ways to reduce injuries when falls do occur - and he is starting from the ground up.

In recent years, new types of flooring have been developed that are flexible enough to absorb the impact of falls, but also rigid enough to perform routine daily tasks on.

Sound too good to be true? Not for Laing, whose innovative work combines balance control considerations with impact assessments to test various flooring models.

But, as Laing points out, developing a floor that is both rigid and flexible is not without challenges.  

“There are two competing demands with safety flooring – impact reduction vs. balance and mobility,” he explained. “I could design a floor nobody will ever get hurt on, but it’s not going to be practical. Nobody would be able to walk on it. It’s difficult to strike that perfect balance.”

Following extensive laboratory testing, Laing and his colleagues are conducting a clinical trial at a long term care facility in British Columbia. Laing hopes his tests will contribute to an optimal design, and that the results will support the use of safety flooring as a preventative measure in facilities across Canada.

Older populations are at higher risk for injury. By taking preventative measures like making changes to their environment, such as modifying the flooring, we can reduce fall-related injuries, decrease government health care costs, and ultimately increase quality of life.”  -Andrew Laing

Sometimes answers to the most complex questions are right under your feet.

graphic title reading 40 under 40

Congratulations to Andrew Laing on being named one of Waterloo Region's 40 Under 40, celebrating leaders in our community.