April 2017 Issue: Researching Falls from Cool and dynamic angles - Roger Montgomery, MSc Kinesiology

Posted Mar 27th, 2017 in KineKT

Research teams at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (TRI) explore a wide range of topics that are relevant to the health of Canadians and our global community. Given the complexity of research questions that teams at TRI investigate, expertise from a variety of disciplines is essential to understand our findings from many diverse perspectives. In addition to more traditional healthcare researchers, TRI routinely collaborates with colleagues from engineering, computer sciences, psychology and kinesiology. The data collection for many interprofessional research studies often occurs within the iDAPT research facility at TRI’s University Avenue location.

The iDAPT research facility is home to several motion simulators that allow researchers to investigate how individuals respond to changes in their environment. One example is  ‘FallsLab’ that can challenge people from a variety of populations (e.g. older healthy adults) to react to the introduction of, or sudden changes in, motion to simulate falls1. The iDAPT Challenging Environmental Assessment Laboratory (CEAL) is home to  ‘WinterLab’, where the lab temperature and floor surface can be controlled to simulate winter conditions and icy ground creating a reliable test platform to conduct a variety of slip-resistance and footwear studies (see Figure 1). For example, by altering the slope angle in WinterLab by 1 degree at a time we are able to determine the angle at which individuals slip on an icy surface with different footwear, or we can test the angle at which mobility scooters of varying types with ranging driver weights lose their grip. Safety is maintained with overhead harnesses; while biomechanics tools such as passive motion capture cameras, force plates and electromyographic equipment capture joint angle, center of pressure, and muscle activity, respectively.

Research into slips, trips and falls and their risk factors is a large part of the work that the Home, Community, and Institutional Environments Team at CEAL is currently focusing on. This line of research improves our understanding of how well individuals are able to make use of the built environment to help prevent falls, for example stair case and handrail design features. This type of practical research carries a high level of importance for modern society where almost 6 million Canadians are now 65 years of age or older 3 and one in three from this population experience a fall each year 4.These types of studies ultimately aim to inform healthcare providers, consumers, and industry stakeholders with the appropriate information to improve health outcomes and advise health policy.

During my MSc in kinesiology in the Environmental Ergonomics Lab at Brock University (2013) I examined the relationship between cold temperature exposure and balance impairment5. Now at CEAL, I collaborate with researchers, healthcare professionals, and graduate students in the collection and analysis of their data for research projects on falls risk associated with varied staircase design, winter driving capability of mobility scooters, and the slip resistance of winter footwear. While the research questions have varied over time, my enthusiasm to explain how people and technology interact under challenging conditions remains as passionate as ever.

More information about the Home, Community, and Institutional Environment Lab or CEAL can be found at:

About the Author: Roger Montgomery is a Research Analyst at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute in Toronto, Ontario Canada. Email: roger.montgomery@uhn.ca 

  1. Mansfield A, Aqui A, Fraser JE, Rajachandrakumar R, Lakhani B, Patterson KK. Can augmented feedback facilitate learning a reactive balance task among older adults? Exp. Brain. Res. 2017;1:293-304.
  2. Hsu J, Shaw R, Novak A, Li Y, Omerod M, Newton R, Dutta T, Fernie G. Slip resistance of winter footwear on snow and ice measured using maximum achievable incline. Ergonomics. 2016;717-728.
  3. Statistics Canada. Population by sex and age group [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2017 Feb 21]. Available from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/demo10a-eng.htm
  4. Tinetti ME, Speechley M, Ginter SF. Risk factors for falls among elderly persons living in the community. N Engl J Med. 1998;319:1701-1707.
  5. Montgomery RE, Hartley GL, Tyler CJ, Cheung SS. Effect of segmental, localized lower limb cooling on dynamic balance. Med Sci Sport Exer. 2015;66-73.

Figure 1: External View of the WinterLab at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute

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