Aging is associated with changes in balance control and elderly take longer to adapt to changing sensory conditions, which may increase falls risk. Low amplitude calf muscle vibration stimulates local sensory afferents/receptors and affects sense of upright when applied in stance. It has been used to assess the extent the nervous system relies on calf muscle somatosensory information and to rapidly change/perturb part of the somatosensory information causing balance unsteadiness by addition and removal of the vibratory stimulus. This study assessed the effect of addition and removal of calf vibration on balance control (in the absence of vision) in elderly individuals (> 65 years, n = 99) who did (n = 41) or did not prospectively report falls (n = 58), and in a group of young individuals (18-25 years, n = 23). Participants stood barefoot and blindfolded on a force plate for 135 s. Vibrators (60 Hz, 1 mm) attached bilaterally over the triceps surae muscles were activated twice for 15 s; after 15 and 75 s (45 s for recovery). Balance measures were applied in a windowed (15 s epoch) manner to compare center-of-pressure (CoP) motion before, during and after removal of calf vibration between groups. In each epoch, CoP motion was quantified using linear measures, and non-linear measures to assess temporal structure of CoP motion [using recurrence quantification analysis (RQA) and detrended fluctuation analysis]. Mean CoP displacement during and after vibration did not differ between groups, which suggests that calf proprioception and/or weighting assigned by the nervous system to calf proprioception was similar for the young and both groups of older individuals. Overall, compared to the elderly, CoP motion of young was more predictable and persistent. Balance measures were not different between fallers and non-fallers before and during vibration. However, non-linear aspects of CoP motion of fallers and non-fallers differed after removal of vibration, when dynamic re-weighting is required. During this period fallers exhibited more random CoP motion, which could result from a reduced ability to control balance and/or a reduced ability to dynamically reweight proprioceptive information. These results show that non-linear measures of balance provide evidence for deficits in balance control in people who go on to fall in the following 12 months.
- Detrended fluctuation analysis
- Muscle vibration
- Recurrence quantification analysis