The study is led by S. Lee Hong, assistant professor in the School of HPER’s Department of Kinesiology, and David M. Koceja, professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology, and is supported by geriatrician Douglas K. Miller and biostatistician Siu L. Hui, both from the IU School of Medicine. The two-year award is funded through the NIH’s National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
Falls are the leading cause of injury and death for older adults. As the number and proportion of people over 65 increases in the U.S., falls among the elderly are a growing problem. The project’s goal is to create a “neuromechanical profile” of fall-risk in senior citizens.
“Our research will explore whether spinal function and balance recovery can be good indicators of fall-risk, allowing for fall-prevention to take place,” Hong said. “Our study also identifies the key player in falls in older adults, namely, spinal cord function, so that targeted interventions can be developed.”
The project uses lower leg reflexes as a safe way of testing an individual’s ability to regain balance when given a gentle push. A small electrical impulse delivered to the back of the knee causes a reflexive movement at the ankles, pushing the person slightly off-balance. The quick recovery is captured by a force plate beneath the individual’s feet. Researchers can quantify how directly balance is recovered by using data obtained on this platform during this short period of time. Measures of postural recovery will then be linked to spinal cord functionality and a clinical measure of fall-risk widely used by physical therapists.
Hong’s research interests focus on how patterns of movement behavior change over a variety of time scales, namely, short-term adaptation, learning, and aging and development. These patterns of change are detected by delving into the manner in which movement patterns evolve over time.
Koceja’s research interests focus on the neuromuscular control of human movement, especially as declines relate to aging and fall-risk. Using an analysis of human reflexes, Koceja has continued to explore the role of the spinal cord in human movement.