Influence of sensory inputs on standing balance in community-dwelling elders with a recent history of falling

S. L. Anacker, R. P. Di Fabio, F. B. Horak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


Vision and/or ankle somatosensory inputs often do not correlate with the position of the center of gravity. In this case, visual or somatosensory information may be in conflict with other sensory systems that convey a true sense of body orientation. The purpose of this study was to determine how conflicting visual and ankle somatosensory inputs influenced standing balance in elders with a history of falls. Forty-seven community-dwelling elders (8 male, 39 female), between 65 and 96 years of age (X̄=80.5, SD=9.0), participated in this project. Subjects with two or more falls in the 6 months prior to study were assigned to a fall group (n=16), whereas those with no history of falling during the same time interval were assigned to a no-fall group (n=31). In order to remove any bias in the testing procedure, the tester was not aware of group assignments. Subjects were evaluated using a sensory organization test (SOT) for standing balance and a 'Get Up and Go' test (GUGT) for general mobility. Analysis of covariance was used to evaluate the SOT scores (by group, vision, and surface condition) and the GUGT scores. Body sway is known to increase with the normal aging process, and for this reason, age was selected as a covariate. The association between the SOT total score and the GUGT score was evaluated using Spearman rank-order correlation coefficients. The results showed a significant interaction between group and surface conditions, which indicated a decreased stance duration for fallers on a compliant surface compared with the stance duration for nonfallers (adjusted mean faller stance duration=53 seconds, SD=42; mean nonfaller stance duration=67 seconds, SD=32). Subjects in the fall group also had significantly higher GUGT scores (which indicated poor mobility function) than did subjects in the nonfall group (adjusted mean faller GUGT score=2.65, SD=1.48; mean nonfaller GUGT score=1.47, SD=0.77). The Spearman correlation between total SOT scores and the GUGT scores was greater for fallers (r=-.67) than for nonfallers (r=-.44). Orientation input from the ankle appears to have greater importance for preventing falls compared with a visual reference. The SOT and GUGT may be useful in the field to establish criteria for screening elders in a fall-prevention program.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)575-584
Number of pages10
JournalPhysical therapy
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • Balance
  • Elders
  • Falls
  • Mobility
  • Posture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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