• Attention focus and balance control in young and older adults

      Paton, Erika.; Applied Health Sciences Program (Brock University, 2008-06-15)
      This thesis investigated attention focus and balance control in eighteen healthy young adults and eighteen healthy older adults. All participants performed sixteen consecutive trials of a balance task which involved standing for 30-s on an unstable platform that could rotate only in the roll direction. There were no attention focus instructions provided on any of the sixteen trials. Following the completion of the initial and final attempt in the series, participants reported "where" their attention had been focused when performing the task. The results showed differences in balance between young and older adults and improvements in balance with practice in both young and older adults. However, there were no differences in attention focus strategies between young and older adults. Both age groups directed attention to multiple sources during the balance task. An equal focus on internal (i.e., feet, trunk, and other body parts) and external (i.e., the platform) sources with little focus on events not related to the task dominated on the first attempt of the balance task. Focus on internal sources was maintained and focus on events not related to the task increased at the expense of focus on external sources on the final attempt of the balance task. Following the series of sixteen trials to establish "natural" attention focus, participants performed three randomly presented trials, each with specific attention focus instructions (i.e., think about minimizing movements of the feet, the trunk, or the platform). The results showed that, in contrast to the literature, instructions to focus on an internal source, the trunk, actually augmented control of the task as reflected in reduced trunk sway whereas instructions to focus on an internal source, the feet, or an external source, the platform, did not benefit performance on the task. Thus, the distance fi-om the interaction point of the body with the external source is critical and may not depend on whether the source is internal or external. Thus, a global attention focus instruction may not be beneficial and the nature of the task should be considered when adopting attention focus instructions for young and older adults.