This Week in Research: Fear of Falling; Building Better Banks

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People have been saying some awfully mean things about banks recently. Poor banks! They can’t help being ruthless and volatile… right? Johns Hopkins economist Caroline Fohlin doesn’t think banks should be let off the hook so easily. In her new book, Mobilizing Money:  How the World’s Richest Nations Financed Industrial Growth, she argues that it’s not the structure of banks but their behavior (and how that behavior is regulated) that has an affect on our economy, for better or worse. In other words, Fohlin’s intensive examination of the history of modern corporate finance systems reveals that there’s no “one size fits all” model that guarantees growth and stability. Instead, many different financial systems have successfully supported economic development. And so maybe instead of thinking about massive reforms to our financial systems, we should concentrate more on policy matters. “In the heat of the moment, you don’t want to react to short-term phenomena,” Fohlin says. “We need to look back over decades, and even centuries, and take into account the long-term trends in financial development over time. Do we need to completely rip up our current financial system? Probably not, when you look at the big picture.”

The body does all sorts of odd things as it ages. Its hair changes color. It stops being able to hear so well. Suddenly, simply walking down the stairs becomes more difficult. But rather than being completely separate phenomena, it turns out that some of these bodily betrayals might be related, according to recent Johns Hopkins research. After surveying thousands of middle-aged patients (age 40 to 69), researches found that people with mild hearing loss (25 decibels) were three times as likely to have a history of falling, compared to those without hearing loss; every 10 decibels above that increased the chance of falling by 1.4. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why. It could be that hearing loss makes it harder to pay attention to the outside environment, or that the brain suffers from “cognitive load” — that is, it’s too overwhelmed with input. “Gait and balance are things most people take for granted, but they are actually very cognitively demanding,” said study head Frank Lin. “If hearing loss imposes a cognitive load, there may be fewer cognitive resources to help with maintaining balance and gait.”

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