Balanced Research

By Matt Hawkins
June 6, 2014

The dangers of distracted driving have been well-publicized, but few consider the impact of distracted walking.

Tyler Lampe DPT ’15 and Lauren Schlink ’12 DPT ’15 learned how simple activities such as walking the dog or talking to the neighbor while out on a walk can have painful consequences. A gentle jostling from a crowd or reading from a text message may seem insignificant, but it also could cause a stumble. 

Because cell phones are ubiquitous distracters on a university campus, the pair tested texting’s effects on balance using the Bradley’s Proprio 5000. They discovered the texting distraction mirrored the effect of alcohol on balance that Lampe previously studied.

“Falls are a huge financial burden on healthcare and costs,” Lampe said. “It’s not necessarily texts, but if you go into people’s history, they were doing things that had distractions.”

Best practices for rehabilitation could benefit from this study. Lampe and Schlink suggested physical therapists include more cognitive training with patients. This could be as simple as patients performing balance exercises while holding a conversation with therapists.

Cognitive training though conversations in the therapist’s office also could have a relational benefit to the process.

“It’s great if we can get the cognitive aspect while building rapport and getting them better faster,” Schlink said. 

Additionally, improved rehab practices combined with active patient engagement could improve long-term health.

“It’s not just rehab, it’s a lot of prevention,” Lampe said. “A fall exponentially increases the risk for more falls. It’s our job to prevent people from coming in for the same thing again.”

The students also encouraged people to work on balance at home before the threat of a costly fall. Standing on one foot will build balance-related muscles while adding a conversation or watching TV will strengthen the link between physical and cognitive elements.

Lampe and Schlink received the President’s Award for their work at the 2014 Student Scholarship Expo, which showcased scholarly work from the University’s graduate school and five colleges.