Postural instability detection: Aging and the complexity of spatial-temporal distributional patterns for virtually contacting the stability boundary in human stance

Melissa C. Kilby, Semyon M. Slobounov, Karl M. Newell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations


Falls among the older population can severely restrict their functional mobility and even cause death. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the mechanisms and conditions that cause falls, for which it is important to develop a predictive model of falls. One critical quantity for postural instability detection and prediction is the instantaneous stability of quiet upright stance based on motion data. However, well-established measures in the field of motor control that quantify overall postural stability using center-of-pressure (COP) or center-of-mass (COM) fluctuations are inadequate predictors of instantaneous stability. For this reason, 2D COP/COM virtual-time-to-contact (VTC) is investigated to detect the postural stability deficits of healthy older people compared to young adults. VTC predicts the temporal safety margin to the functional stability boundary ( = limits of the region of feasible COP or COM displacement) and, therefore, provides an index of the risk of losing postural stability. The spatial directions with increased instability were also determined using quantities of VTC that have not previously been considered. Further, Lempel-Ziv-Complexity (LZC), a measure suitable for on-line monitoring of stability/instability, was applied to explore the temporal structure or complexity of VTC and the predictability of future postural instability based on previous behavior. These features were examined as a function of age, vision and different load weighting on the legs. The primary findings showed that for old adults the stability boundary was contracted and VTC reduced. Furthermore, the complexity decreased with aging and the direction with highest postural instability also changed in aging compared to the young adults. The findings reveal the sensitivity of the time dependent properties of 2D VTC to the detection of postural instability in aging, availability of visual information and postural stance and potential applicability as a predictive model of postural instability during upright stance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere108905
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 8 2014


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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