UA College of Medicine – Tucson Awarded Funds for Pilot Study of Older Adults and Fall Prevention

Nov 5, 2013

The Interdisciplinary Consortium on Advanced Motion Performance (iCAMP) and the Arizona Center on Aging at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson have been awarded a grant from the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation for an innovative pilot study on fall prevention involving residents living at Villa Hermosa Senior Living Center in Tucson.

At least 30 percent of persons age 65 and older experience one or more falls each year, and this percentage increases to 40 percent after age 75. Falls are a major health problem in older adults, causing fall-related complications such as fractures, head injuries and post-fall anxiety.

“This generous grant will help us to evaluate an innovative combined virtual-reality-based balance training and meditation intervention for reducing the risk of falling in older adults,” said Michael Schwenk, PhD, co-principal investigator for the study and a research fellow with the iCAMP team in the UA Department of Surgery. “What we learn can be translated to older adults living in the home and community to help them remain independent and fall free.”

Arizona Center on Aging Associate Director Jane Mohler, PhD, MSN, NP-c, UA professor of medicine and an expert in the field of geriatrics, is scientific advisor for the study, “Promoting Combination of Exercise and Meditation to Prevent Falls in Older Adults.”

Major risk factors for falls are reduced gait and balance performance. Attention-demanding tasks, such as talking while walking, recently have been identified as amplifying gait and balance problems in older adults. Deficits in the simultaneous processing of two tasks, known as “dual-tasking,” have been identified as a strong predictor of future falls. A combination of balance training and a Yoga meditation technique, “Kirtan Kriya,” may help to improve both balance and attention, thereby improving dual-task performance.

The virtual-reality-based exercise training that will be used in the study has been developed by iCAMP biomedical engineers Gurtej Singh Grewal, PhD, and Bijan Najafi, PhD, iCAMP director, associate professor of surgery and the study’s principal investigator, and involves specific balance tasks with lower extremity joint position feedback using wearable sensors. The meditation program has been designed by Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation.

The $21,000 grant is “seed money” that allows UA researchers to conduct the preliminary research necessary for obtaining larger private and government grants to further their studies of older adults.

For more information about the study, please contact Michael Schwenk, email

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