Discovery Park Undergraduate Research Internship Program

"Toward the Development of Cognitive Training Paradigms to Reduce Falls in in Typically Aging Adults and Individuals with Parkinson's Disease"

About the Project

Project Time & Type:
Spring 2011 - DURI
Research area(s):
computer science, engineering, computer-user interface
Project Description:
Balance problems are common in typically aging older adults and also manifest in Parkinson’s disease (PD). Individuals who fall often suffer debilitating injuries, drastically reducing their overall mobility and quality of life. The need to develop methods to reduce falls is of high clinical importance. The issue of falls is complex because of the interplay between balance, cognition, and the multiple demands of everyday tasks. The control of balance was traditionally believed to be mostly reflexive. However, recent research has shown that cognitive resources are needed to maintain balance. The role of cognition in balance may be important for explaining falls in older adults and individuals with PD since, in addition to motor changes, these individuals exhibit cognitive impairments. There is a high likelihood that falls are precipitated by the inability of older adults and individuals with PD to simultaneously manage the motor and cognitive demands inherent to balance and common everyday tasks. Currently, no treatment has been demonstrated to effectively reduce falls in these populations. Technologies exist that provide balance and cognitive training separately to impaired individuals. Balance training devices (similar to a Nintendo Wii) require individuals to stand on a platform facing a computer screen which provides real-time visual feedback about body position while performing various balance games. Cognitive training is designed to improve a wide variety of cognitive domains (e.g. memory, attention). To date, there are no training paradigms that simultaneously train balance and cognition. Therefore, none of the current training paradigms are veridical to everyday life. Given the difficulties experienced by OLDER INDIVIDUALS AND individual’s with PD, a training paradigm that integrates balance and cognition, as proposed in the current study, is more likely to result in generalized improvements to everyday life. THE OBJECTIVE: To develop a computer-based training paradigm that integrates cognition and balance, to improve the ability of individuals to maintain balance while engaging in common everyday activities.
Expected Student Contributions:
We collect real-time information about a person's balance using a AMTI force-plate. The location where pressure is exerted on the ground by a person is called their center of pressure. We need the intern to import the data from the force-plate and display the real-time center of pressure in the environment of a training "game." The computer program will change the display in response to input from the force-plate and in response to the training goals.
Related Website(s):
Desired Qualifications:
Computer programming experience and skills Computer programming language is negotiable, potentially Visual Studio or Java. The script should be able to create an executable which works with real-time data to create a real-time display. The display should respond to real-time changes in the input data.
Estimated Weekly Hours:
Department awards independent research credits for this project?
Yes, 3 credit hours

Professor in Charge

Huber, Jessica
Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences

Student Supervisor

Jeffrey Haddad
Assistant Professor

Cooperating Faculty

Jeffrey Haddad
Health and Kinesology