Characteristics of postural sway in older adults standing on a soft surface

Hideyuki Tanaka, Teruo Uetake
Journal of Human Ergology 2005, 34 (1): 35-40
Postural responses to challenging situations were studied in older adults as they stood on a foam surface. The experiment was designed to assess the relative contributions made by visual and somatosensory information to the correction of postural sway. Twenty-four subjects, aged 56-83, stood for 20 s on a 1) firm or 2) foam surface with 1) the eyes open or 2) the eyes closed. Centre-of-pressure trajectories under the subjects' feet were measured by using a force platform. A repeated-measure two-way MANCOVA (two surfaces vs. two vision conditions) showed a significant main effect for the surface, but not for the vision. No covariate effect for age was found. Anterior-posterior sway increased in the subjects who were merely standing on the foam surface independent of the vision condition. Medial-lateral sway dramatically increased if the subjects stood on the foam surface with their eyes closed, but not if they stood with their eyes open. These results indicate that older adults rely more on visual information to correct mediolateral postural sway. It appears that the deterioration in visual acuity that occurs with aging may increase the risk of sideway falls, particularly in challenging situations, e.g., when standing on irregular or soft surfaces.

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