Exercise programs designed to reduce falls in the senior population have proven to be effective.  Considerable research has identified the integral components of a successful falls prevention exercise program.  These components include general muscle strengthening and conditioning and balance training.  Guidelines and best practice abound for strengthening, stretching and cardiovascular conditioning; however, guidelines for improving balance remain elusive. (1). 

To begin to develop guidelines for effective balance training, one must understand the complex nature of balance and postural control.  Balance has been defined as a multi-dimensional construct, depending on the coordinated function of several body systems including vision, proprioception, vestibular information, muscle function, and energy systems. (2).  It is well understood that each of these systems will experience some degree of age related degradation resulting in progressive balance problems.  More recently the attentional demands of balance and postural control and the ability of the central nervous system to process information from body systems have also been identified as a cause of age-related balance difficulties. (1).  Quite simply, as we age balance becomes less automatic and requires an increasing level of cognitive resources to maintain postural control.

Previous studies of balance training in sedentary older adults have shown functional improvements resulting from a wide variety of interventions including biofeedback, virtual reality, tai chi and more conventional exercise programs focused on strength and aerobic exercise.  In these studies, it was not possible to determine whether improved balance scores were attributable to any one intervention or to a general improvement in fitness levels. (1).  A recent study completed by Eric Heiden and Yves Lajoje from the School of Human Kinetics at the University of Ottawa set out to determine whether a balance training program using games-based augmented sensory feedback could improve the functional balance in currently active older adults by reducing the attentional demands of balance.  Augmented sensory feedback was provided using force plates and the games-based feedback interface of the NeuroGym Trainer by NeuroGym Technologies.

The results of the study by Heiden and Lajoje suggest that balance training with the NeuroGym system of games-based augmented sensory feedback effectively improves the functional balance of previously healthy and active older adults.  By increasing the automaticity of postural control (thus reducing the attentional demands) balance training with augmented sensory feedback may facilitate the reflexive functional balance responses that are instrumental in avoiding accidental falls. (1).  These findings highlight the importance of specific training for balance and postural control in addition to conventional exercise as an integral component of a falls prevention program.

Practically, these results indicate that even healthy and active older adults can significantly improve their balance and reduce their likelihood of an accidental fall with a balance training program designed to reduce the attentional demands of balance and postural control.  Physio In Motion, in partnership with NeuroGym Technologies, makes the same NeuroGym augmented sensory feedback equipment and clinical expertise used by Heiden and Lajoje in the described study available to individuals, facilities and institutions. To implement an augmented sensory feedback balance training program for an individual, a facility, or an institution please contact Physio In Motion for more information.

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(1)  Heiden E, Lajoje Y. Games-based biofeedback training and theattentional demands of balance in older adults.  Aging Clin Exp Res.  2010; Vol. 22, No. 5-6

(2)  Balasubramaniam R, Wing Am.  The dynamics of standing balance.Trends Cog Sci. 2002;  6: 531-6