Striving for Balance in Zeeland, Michigan

Maureen Dunn, Ph.D. | Professor of KinesiologyKirk Brumels, Ph.D. | John H. and Jeanne M. Jacobson Professor of Kinesiology

When an elderly person falls, a cascade of medical problems may follow. So when a cluster of falls occurred in 2019 in the assisted living section of a West Michigan senior community, staff asked Hope’s Department of Kinesiology for advice. Dr. Maureen Dunn and Dr. Kirk Brumels teamed with physical therapist Dr. David Krombeen ’12 to design a balance intervention program. In a trial run this winter, some residents are sticking with the facility’s existing fitness classes while another group does balance-building exercises guided on-site by a Hope kinesiology major. Brumels and Dunn will assess the outcomes to inform program design going forward.

Dr. Dunn: Our goal is to include tasks that have been shown previously to improve balance. One thing that improves balance is to stand. Moving your eyes and head can also improve balance, and that can be done seated. Exercise of this sort may prove beneficial to residents of the senior community who are living independently, too, as a preventive program.

Dr. Brumels: To maintain balance, we not only require physical strength, but we must be able to effectively process sensory, visual, auditory and positional feedback. If someone’s walking and a sound or a sight startles them or they quickly change positions, how are they able to maintain balance? The program challenges participants in all of those areas, and then we will put them together into activities of daily living and functional movements and hopefully improve balance. Good balance is not something you can get too much of.