Senior Research Scientist
Conjoint Senior Lecturer, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW
+612 9399 1062
Dr Sturnieks has a PhD in human biomechanics (UWA). She is Laboratory Manager for the Falls, Balance and Injury Research Centre at NeuRA including a new state-of-the-art Balance and Gait Analysis Laboratory. Her research focuses on understanding biomechanical, sensorimotor and neurocognitive contributions to balance and falls in older people and clinical groups, and randomised controlled trials of novel interventions to prevent falls involving balance, stepping and cognitive training. Dr Sturnieks is active in translating research findings into community, aged care and hospital settings and is Executive Board Member of the Australian and New Zealand Falls Prevention Society.
There is emerging evidence that visuo-spatial processing is involved in balance control during gait. Importantly, visuo-spatial processing may be key for fall avoidance as it enables one to precisely remember the position and physical characteristics of upcoming hazards; an essential skill for the safe navigation of everyday environments. Yet, investigations of visuospatial processing use for obstacle avoidance have been restricted to animal studies and young adults. No studies have been undertaken in older people or people with Parkinson’s Disease for whom visuo-spatial processing deficits are evident and associated with impaired postural control.
This series of studies will investigate visuo-spatial processing required for obstacle avoidance and navigation in older people, older people at high risk of falls and people with Parkinson’s Disease. We will use motion capture to investigate behavioural outcomes and a freely-worn brain imaging device, functional near-infrared spectroscopy to study cortical activation in regions of interest. We will conduct two experiments one involving an obstacle crossing task and another, a stepping task.
We hypothesize that older age, Parkinson’s Disease and increasing task complexity will result in increased risk of tripping and impaired visuo-motor performance, in the obstacle crossing task and in the stepping task, respectively.
This research will greatly improve our understanding of central mechanisms for fall risk and build on our recent behavioural work in this area.
We propose to install the smartstep system in rehabilitation units as an enjoyable, efficient and effective method of training balance, stepping and executive functions for people attending rehabilitation. The smartstep system includes modified versions of popular videogames, to maximise adherence and target specific balance and executive functions, played using an interactive stepping mat. This work aims to implement and evaluate the use of the smartstep system in aged care rehabilitation using a randomised controlled trial, comparing changes in patient balance and mobility performance between intervention and control groups. System user satisfaction will also be evaluated from the perspective of intervention group patients and therapists. In this randomised controlled trial with usual care control, groups will be compared on validated balance and mobility performance measures.
A randomised controlled trial to reduce the risk of falling in people with Parkinson’s disease.
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A multifactorial tailored approach for treating dizziness was effective in reducing dizziness handicap in community-living people aged 50 years and older. No difference was seen on the other primary outcomes. Our findings therefore support the implementation of individualized, multifaceted evidence-based therapies to reduce self-perceived disability associated with dizziness in middle-aged and older people.
Impaired gait adaptability is associated with high risk of falls in older adults. Reduced executive function, increased concern about falling and weaker quadriceps strength contribute significantly to this relationship. Training gait adaptability directly, as well as addressing the above mediators through cognitive, behavioural and physical training may maximise fall prevention efficacy.