Headlines (Campus Updates)
Laurier Prof awarded research grant to study how footwear affects balance of older adults
Stephen Perry nets three-year grant worth $164,655
Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing
Laurier kinesiology professor Dr. Stephen Perry has been awarded a three-year grant worth $164,655 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to study the effects of footwear on the balance of older adults.
“A greater understanding of the role of footwear in balance control will lead to practical applications such as improved footwear design and guidelines for footwear intervention strategies,” says Perry. “All of which could be targeted at improving balance control, reducing falling risk and reducing the occurrence of foot disorders as a result of improper footwear.”
Perry says reducing falls could pay huge dividends in reducing health-care costs. Health Canada estimates that falls cost the Canadian health-care system $2.4 billion every year. They can have deteriorative long-term results, especially for seniors. Forty percent of those who suffer a fall and fracture their hip will die due to complications.
Perry also points out that most seniors never fully recover from a fall. They live in fear of falling again and often become less active and more reclusive, which results in an overall deterioration in their quality of life.
There has been only limited research done on the influence of footwear on the control of balance, even though it is considered to have tremendous potential in preventing falls.
“This research will identify very specific footwear design characteristics and their influence on balance control,” says Perry. “This approach will provide a valuable understanding of the role footwear and sensory information play during balance control and will provide guidelines and educational resources for clinicians in the field.”
His work will include international collaboration with leading footwear experts Dr. Stephen Lord and Dr. Hylton Menz of Australia, Dr. Mark Redfern (University of Pittsburgh) and Dr. David Vaughan (Wilfrid Laurier University), along with local clinicians Kim Rau (Pedorthic Services) and Dan Blocka (George Brown College).
Perry often sees people whose balance is impaired by the shoes they are wearing. “When I see people walking on the street who are stumbling or wobbly, I know it’s likely because of the shoes their wearing,” Perry says. “The shoes we wear are inhibiting our sense of balance.”
The foot acts as a mechanical structure for creating movements to maintain your balance and as a transmitter of sensory information for triggering these reactions. However, Perry says, “We typically have footwear which can affect sensing and reacting to potential balance disturbances.”
High heels are a dramatic example of footwear that not only affects your balance but can possibly create physiological problems later in life.
According to Perry, a lifetime of wearing high-heeled shoes can mean that your body muscles readjust to a certain kind of balance. If the doctor tells you to wear flats for health reasons, the shift for your body is dramatic and can cause an imbalance in how your body reacts to a missed step or bump.
But high heels are not the only enemies of our feet. Small toe boxes cause problematic restrictions on the toes and extremely thick-soled running shoes can affect the foot’s ability to feel differences in terrain.
“My research will, I hope, lead to footwear designs that allow the foot to function normally,” says Perry. “Our shoes are currently restructuring the actual, natural function of the foot.”
Perry is also involved in two other large-grant projects. He is a co-investigator on a New Emerging Team Program grant from CIHR, which is collectively valued at $616,679. The grant will fund innovative approaches to optimizing balance and mobility in older adults.
As well, Perry is one of the main designers and future users of the new Challenging Environment Assessment Laboratory (CEAL), which is part of the larger Intelligent Design for Adaption, Participation and Technology (iDAPT) project funded by Canada Foundation for Innovation/Ontario Innovation Trust.
CEAL will feature a circular platform that can be translated and rotated in any direction in order to facilitate studies into the traction and stability of wheelchairs and walking when climbing and descending slopes.
This new facility for the Toronto Rehab Institute will cost $18.4 million.