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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2010 Dec;109(6):1786-91. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00390.2010. Epub 2010 Oct 14.

Physiological complexity and system adaptability: evidence from postural control dynamics of older adults.

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Division of Gerontology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, 110 Francis St. Suite 1B, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


The degree of multiscale complexity in human behavioral regulation, such as that required for postural control, appears to decrease with advanced aging or disease. To help delineate causes and functional consequences of complexity loss, we examined the effects of visual and somatosensory impairment on the complexity of postural sway during quiet standing and its relationship to postural adaptation to cognitive dual tasking. Participants of the MOBILIZE Boston Study were classified into mutually exclusive groups: controls [intact vision and foot somatosensation, n = 299, 76 ± 5 (SD) yr old], visual impairment only (<20/40 vision, n = 81, 77 ± 4 yr old), somatosensory impairment only (inability to perceive 5.07 monofilament on plantar halluxes, n = 48, 80 ± 5 yr old), and combined impairments (n = 25, 80 ± 4 yr old). Postural sway (i.e., center-of-pressure) dynamics were assessed during quiet standing and cognitive dual tasking, and a complexity index was quantified using multiscale entropy analysis. Postural sway speed and area, which did not correlate with complexity, were also computed. During quiet standing, the complexity index (mean ± SD) was highest in controls (9.5 ± 1.2) and successively lower in the visual (9.1 ± 1.1), somatosensory (8.6 ± 1.6), and combined (7.8 ± 1.3) impairment groups (P = 0.001). Dual tasking resulted in increased sway speed and area but reduced complexity (P < 0.01). Lower complexity during quiet standing correlated with greater absolute (R = -0.34, P = 0.002) and percent (R = -0.45, P < 0.001) increases in postural sway speed from quiet standing to dual-tasking conditions. Sensory impairments contributed to decreased postural sway complexity, which reflected reduced adaptive capacity of the postural control system. Relatively low baseline complexity may, therefore, indicate control systems that are more vulnerable to cognitive and other stressors.

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