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Adaptability of gait and balance across the adult lifespan

PhD ceremony:Ms D. (Danique) Vervoort
When:November 30, 2020
Supervisors:prof. dr. C.J.C. (Claudine ) Lamoth, prof. dr. T. (Tibor) Hortobagyi
Co-supervisors:dr. N. Vuillerme, dr. A.R. (Rob) den Otter
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Medical Sciences / UMCG
Adaptability of gait and balance across the adult lifespan

Human walking has evolved from walking on four legs to walking on two legs. During walking on two legs balance is challenged more, since there is a longer period of standing on one leg. Gait adaptability, the ability to adjust walking to a potential loss of balance, is needed to maintain the ability to walk. An impaired ability to adapt gait makes walking more vulnerable to internal and external perturbations and increases the risk of falling. When people get older, gait adaptability might be affected because of changes in walking and balance performance, which would make older adults more vulnerable to a loss of balance. This thesis shed light on the effects of age on adaptability in walking and balance. We examined adaptability in walking and balance using the split-belt paradigm. People walked on a treadmill with two belts, one for each foot, that could be controlled separately. Walking was disturbed by speeding up one of the treadmill belts, so one treadmill belt ran faster than the other belt. We found that when people get older, a different adaptation strategy is used to adapt to walking on split-belt treadmill and dynamic balance is affected. On the other hand, muscle activation and walking symmetry were not affected in older adults while walking on the split-belt treadmill. In conclusion, we showed that increasing age affected certain features of adaptability of gait and walking and left other features unaffected. Thus, this thesis increased our understanding of age-related changes in walking and balance performance.