The Balance Disorders Laboratory examines how motor signals sent to muscles and sensory information about body position interact to maintain a person's balance while standing or walking. Diseases or injury that damage the motor (e.g. Parkinson's disease) or sensory (e.g., vestibular injury, multiple sclerosis, mTBI) pathways can disrupt balance. In addition to studying how balance control is disrupted, our laboratory is utilizing novel balance training interventions along with state-of-the-art brain imaging (e.g. MRI, fNIRS) to determine rehabilitation efficacy in clinical populations.
Areas of Research
The Balance Disorders Laboratory's current studies are relating the brain’s postural/locomotor circuits to objective measures of balance and gait disorders in people with neurologic diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and mild Traumatic Brain Injury as well as older population. These projects will improve our understanding of the role of the cortical and subcortical areas in balance and gait and how cognitive impairments relate to postural disorders with the goal of improving mobility rehabilitation in the elderly.
One of the long-term goals of the laboratory is to develop effective rehabilitation approaches to improve balance and gait in people with neurologic diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and mild Traumatic Brain Injury. Clarifying the relationships between gait and balance deficits and frontal lobe deficits as well as central sensorimotor integration deficits is an important focus of our research.
The Balance Disorders Laboratory is at the forefront of developing and implementing objective measures to quantify balance deficits in people with neurological disorders. Our team was among the first to demonstrate the feasibility of using wearable sensors to quantify gait and turning characteristics during daily life and in people’s natural environments. The impact of this work continues to expand. During the COVID-19 period, our lab actively enrolled new participants to our studies and provided rehabilitation treatment opportunities despite most in-person research being either limited or prohibited.
Research Participation Opportunities
Purpose: SPARX3 is a research study to learn more about the effects of aerobic exercise on people with Parkinson’s disease who have not yet started medication for their PD. It will compare the effects of moderate intensity treadmill exercise to high intensity treadmill exercise on the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
- Between 40 and 80 years of age
- Diagnosed with primary PD with disease duration less than 3 years
- Have not yet started medication for PD
- Not likely to begin dopaminergic therapy with the next 6 months
First, you will complete two screening visits to confirm that you meet the criteria to participate in the study. These visits consist of physical and memory/thinking assessments, a blood draw for exercise clearance, a questionnaire to screen for depression, and a brain scan (DaTscan) that helps confirm diagnosis of PD.
If you are eligible to participate in this study, you will then complete a series of visits, which consist of more physical and memory/thinking assessments, questionnaires, blood draws, exercise tests, and brain scans. You will also be randomized (like flipping a coin) to one of two exercise groups. You will be asked to exercise, at a specific rate/intensity, 4 days per week for approximately 30 minutes, while we closely monitor you. Your participation in this study, including study visits and the exercise sessions, will last approximately 2 years (24-26 months).
The purpose of the study is to learn more about daily life mobility and disease progression in individuals recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. We are hoping to find out which measures of daily life mobility are common among individuals recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which measures are most sensitive to disease progression over time, and which measures of daily life mobility are associated with risk of falls over time.
- Between 50 and 89 years of age
- Diagnosed with PD within the last 3 years
- Have not yet started medication for PD
- Able to walk for 2 minutes without the use of an assistive device
- No health conditions, other than PD, that impact gait or mobility
- Are not enrolled in a therapeutic clinical trial
Study participation lasts roughly 36 months and consists of 4 study visits, fall-reporting, and 4 one-week periods of mobility-monitoring during daily life using wearable sensors. Study visits take place at months 0, 12, 24, and 36 and consist of gait and balance assessments with wearable sensors, clinical assessments of PD symptoms, and questionnaires about your PD symptoms and quality of life. Fall-reporting takes place via email surveys. Three sensors are worn during the daily life mobility-monitoring collections, which take place immediately following each study visit.
This study involves wearing mobility sensors at home for one week to learn about mobility patterns in people with Parkinson's disease (PD).
- Between 55 and 85 years of age
- Have been diagnosed with PD
- Able to walk for two minutes without the use of an assistive device
- Are taking a stable dose of Levodopa medication
- Willing to wear mobility sensors for two, one-week-long periods, and track your falls for 12 months
- No other neurological or musculoskeletal issues
For those who have not fallen in the last 12 months
If you decide to take part in this study, you would be asked to wear a set of mobility monitoring sensors for one week and to track your falls for one year through email survey. The sensors collect information about your balance and mobility and are worn on the feet and around the waist (3 total sensors) for up to 10 hours per day for 7 days. Participants will also be asked to complete several surveys and questionnaires during two separate virtual visits or during an in-person visit with study staff members. Participants repeat the week with mobility monitoring sensors and the study visits after the 12-months of fall tracking are complete. Participants are compensated $200 for completing the study in its entirety. This study can be completed in person or entirely virtual/remote.
For those who have fallen in the last 12 months
If you decide to take part in this study, you would be randomly assigned to either an exercise intervention or a control group. Participants in the exercise intervention group attend 3 exercise sessions per week for 6 weeks, while the control group is asked to maintain their existing exercise routine for the same 6-week period. Participants in both groups are asked to wear a set of mobility monitoring sensors for three, 1-week periods and to track their falls for one year through automated email surveys. The sensors collect information about your balance and mobility and are worn on the feet and around the waist (3 total sensors) for up to 10 hours per day for 7 days. Several surveys, questionnaires, and assessments are completed during three in-person study visits. Participants are compensated $300 or $450 (depending on randomization) for completing the study.
For more information, please contact:
Jacquie Ellison by phone (503) 329-3828
The OHSU Balance Disorders Laboratory is investigating whether telerehabilitation focused on improving balance improves daily life mobility and balance in people with Parkinson’s disease. Participants will be compensated for their time with up to $220 per person as well as rehabilitation under the direction of a licensed physical therapist. If you are taking levodopa for Parkinson’s disease, are 55–85 years old and are willing to participate in an exercise program at home, email email@example.com or call 503.418.2601.
News and Media
Here's how exercise improves the mobility of people with Parkinson's disease - KATU article featuring an interview with Dr. Fay Horak.
Podcast: Freezing, moving and cueing – understanding gait and Parkinson’s disease - Podcast featuring Dr. Martina Mancini.
Parkinson's Disease, Freezing of Gait and Walking Automaticity - Blog post by Dr. Martina Mancini for the World Parkinson's Coalition (WPC).
We welcome students with backgrounds in clinical research, engineering, neuroscience, psychology or kinesiology to join the lab through one of four routes:
Postdoctoral fellows should contact lab faculty directly to inquire about positions. We also have volunteer opportunities.
For questions, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.