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Adaptive recovery responses to repeated forward loss of balance in older adults

Rod S Barrett, Neil J Cronin, Glen A Lichtwark, Peter M Mills, Christopher P Carty
Journal of Biomechanics 2012 January 3, 45 (1): 183-7
22018681
Experiments designed to assess balance recovery in older adults often involve exposing participants to repeated loss of balance. The purpose of this study was to investigate the adaptive balance recovery response exhibited by older adults following repeated exposure to forward loss of balance induced by releasing participants from a static forward lean angle. Fifty-eight healthy, community-dwelling older adults, aged 65-80 years, participated in the study. Participants were instructed to attempt to recover with a single step and performed four trials at each of three lean angles. Adaptive recovery responses at four events (cable release, toe-off of the stepping foot, foot contact and maximum knee flexion angle following landing in the stepping leg) were quantified for trials performed at the intermediate lean angle using the concept of margin of stability. The antero-posterior and medio-lateral margin of stability were computed as the difference between the velocity-adjusted position of the whole body centre of mass and the corresponding anterior or lateral boundary of the base of support. Across repeated trials adaptations in reactive stepping responses were detected that resulted in improved antero-posterior stability at foot contact and maximum knee flexion angle. Improved antero-posterior stability following repeated trials was explained by more effective control of the whole body centre of mass during the reactive stepping response and not by adjustments in step timing or base of support. The observed adaptations occurred within a single testing session and need to be considered in the design of balance recovery experiments.

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