Helping Aging Adults
Every year, one in three people age 65 or older falls.
When seniors fall and are injured, their ability to live independently decreases. Even a fall that doesn’t cause injury can create fear that can limit confidence and diminish their quality of life.
Kinesiology Assistant Professor Christopher Ray is working to allay these fears by identifying physical factors that contribute to increased fall risk in sighted and legally blind older adults.
“The research will help us develop interventions that improve functional independence and quality of life in both older adults and aging adults with visual impairments,” said Dr. Ray, who is also a research health scientist at the VA North Texas Health Care System. “The goal is to help the elderly, particularly those with vision loss, improve their quality of life.”
Ray has been interested in this field since his postdoctoral research fellowship with the Veterans Administration Rehabilitation Research and Development Center of Excellence for Aging Veterans with Vision Loss from 2004 to 2007.
The ability of an older adults to perform daily tasks, maintain independent mobility and react to loss of balance is affected by age-associated declines in muscle mass, decreased neuromuscular efficiency and reductions in flexibility. In particular, loss of lower extremity strength can make climbing stairs, rising from a chair or the floor, and even walking more difficult. Moreover, changes in balance and gait can negatively affect an older adult’s activity level.
The result: Older adults are less likely to participate in an active lifestyle.
Ray’s methods evaluate balance and reaction time using the Sensory Organization Test created by NeuroCom International, Inc., which specializes in balance and mobility testing. The test looks for abnormalities in the subject’s use of the three sensory systems that contribute to balance: vestibular (inner ear), visual and somatosensory, which helps the body detect touch, pressure, temperature, pain, muscle movement and joint position.
A total of 150 subjects will be evaluated over the next three years using the test, which assesses the subject’s ability to react to input from the three sensory systems. Each subject is tested under the following conditions:
- Standing on a flat surface with normal vision
- Standing on a flat surface with eyes closed
- Standing on a flat surface with visuals that make the subject seem to be falling forward
- Standing on a tilted surface with normal vision
- Standing on a tilted surface with eyes closed
- Standing on a tilted surface with visuals that make the subject seem to be falling forward.
“By testing them in a variety of conditions, we will better understand the degree to which participants rely on their vision when trying to balance and how participants are able to balance when their attention is divided,” said Ray, whose research is supported by the Veterans Health Administration Research and Development Career Development Program.
Once the tests are complete, Ray will evaluate the data and try to create effective therapeutic methods or strategies to counteract any negative effects found in the research and improve the overall quality of life of older adults.
“The research will help us develop interventions that improve functional independence and quality of life in both older adults and aging adults with visual impairments.”