November 2020

Low Energy Increases Fall Risk in Older Adults

Declines in feelings of energy can lead to balance problems in older adults, according to Clarkson University research published in the journal Physical & Occupational Therapy in Geriatrics.

“We wanted to see whether increases in feelings of fatigue or, alternatively, reductions in feelings of energy led to declines in balance or gait,” said lead researcher Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Ali Boolani, PhD. “We found that declines in feelings of energy led to declines in balance—some declines in balance clinically meaningful.”

Three years ago, an undergraduate researcher in Boolani’s lab, biology major Stephanie Grobe 2017, published a theoretical paper that stated when older adults feel mentally fatigued, they are more likely to have changes in balance and gait, which can lead to increased fall risks. Several researchers tested the theory and found no change in balance and gait with mental fatigue unless the subject was performing 2 tasks at once. This was perplexing to Boolani’s team, but their lab had subsequently found that feelings of energy and feelings of fatigue were actually 2 very different moods. When Grobe had written the paper, they were examining energy and fatigue as opposite ends of the same continuum—i.e. if you’re not fatigued, then you’re energetic; or if you’re not energetic, then you’re fatigued.

However, several new studies in the lab showed that a person could be both energetic and fatigued at the same time and that even biological responses to the 2 moods were very different.

The laboratory of Clarkson Associate Professors of Computer Science Natasha Banerjee, PhD, and Sean Banerjee, PhD, performed a pilot study, the results of which found that declines in feelings of energy lead to significant decreases in balance. After performing only 1 hour of mental work, these older adults reported a decline in feelings of mental energy, which then led to changes in balance. This primarily occurred when their eyes were closed, or their vision was obstructed. The Banerjee lab confirmed that what the researchers were “seeing” was true by using video of the subjects performing tasks and machine-learning models created by computer science undergraduate student Jenna Ryan 2021. They were able to identify when there was a decline in feelings of energy with 79 percent accuracy.

“Jenna and the Banerjee lab were instrumental in helping us identify which aspect of the Berg Balance Test had the greatest change in balance after the decline in mental energy,” says Boolani.

Source: Clarkson University Researchers Find That Low Energy Can Lead to Falls in Older Adults

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