Erika Pilner, Ph.D.

Title: Efficacy of Balance Training with Visual Occlusions.

Walking requires integration of sensory information, computational processing, and motor output response (referred hereafter as the neuromechanical components). Deficits in any of these neuromechanical components with aging can increase fall risk. To combat aging effects on mobility and reduce fall risk, researchers have designed training paradigms to improve sensory feedback, computational processes and motor output responses. How these training programs affect neuromechanical components is unclear. Sensory inputs can be manipulated, and the motor output response can be measured from biomechanical analysis, but the computational processes are a “black box” problem due to previous limitations in non-invasive imaging. Recent breakthroughs in non-invasive imaging technology via electroencephalography (EEG) have allowed researchers to characterize electrocortical activity using advanced computational processes.

The goal of this project is to quantify the efficacy of balance training paradigms on neuromechanical components by manipulating sensory information and measuring electrocortical and biomechanical responses.  A second goal is to compare differences in young and older adults. Recent work in the UF Human Neuromechanics Laboratory indicates visual perturbations can be powerful tools for enhancing balance training, we propose to use intermittent occluded vision to quantify neuromechanical mechanisms of improved balance.  The primary aim will test the hypothesis that balance performance will be improved from balance training with intermittent visual perturbations compared to controls. This will be caused by increases in theta synchronization and alpha-beta desynchronization in the posterior parietal and occipital cortices in balance training with intermittent visual perturbations. A second aim will test the aging effects on sensory, computational and motor responses during balance training. The hypothesis here is that neuromechanical components will improve in both older and younger adults from balance training paradigms, but the older adults will show delayed perturbation detection (sensory), greater recruitment of cognitive processes (computational), and greater gait instability (motor) compared to younger adults. 

Progress on this project has been excellent since beginning the T32 program.  Educational and hands training are ongoing through the Mind in Motion study where Dr. Pilner is involved with testing lower functioning older adults.  These interactions and fine tuning the EEG protocols are preparing her for data collection.