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2010.11.24 > For Immediate Release
contact: Wendy Townley - University Relations
phone: 402.554.2762 - email: wtownley@unomaha.edu

Historic NIH Grant to Examine Walking, Falling Among Older People

Omaha - A University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) researcher with the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation has received a two-year, $163,000 grant from the National Institutes for Health (NIH) to study what causes older adults to be more susceptible to falling.

Leslie Decker, a postdoctoral researcher with the Nebraska Biomechanics Core Facility at UNO, has continually recruited local volunteers in their 20s and early 30s, and those age 65 and older, to be monitored while walking on a treadmill and while using the university’s Gait-O-Gram technology.

The technology monitors all aspects of movement while walking, and how sounds and images impact a person’s gait.

“Even performing two over-learned tasks at the same time – such as walking while talking – can impact how a person walks,” Decker said.

Decker’s research examines how the performance of cognitive tasks that require different aspects of executive functioning – such as working memory, inhibition of proponent responses and response flexibility – impact step fluctuations while walking.

Decker collects data on each participant for her new study, “Effects of cognitive challenge on gait control in elderly fallers.”

Decker’s research is funded by a prestigious NIH K99 Pathways to Independence Award. The primary goal of this initiative is to mentor early stage investigators and to assist them in securing a stable research position during the critical transition stage of their career.

Contingent upon the success of her project, Decker may receive an additional three years of independent support totaling $750,000.

Decker’s grant is the first such grant for the state of Nebraska.

Recent research has demonstrated that adults display minor differences while walking, with such changes even occurring in young, healthy adults.

Several factors can impact how individuals walk, Decker said, including performing two tasks at the same time. Decker’s research examines how different tasks impact variations while walking from one step to the next.

During each 90-minute session, research participants – both while walking on a treadmill and while seated – read words projected onto a screen; generate words that belong to a certain category or words that begin with a certain letter; and listening and responding to various sounds through headphones. Decker monitors each person’s reaction in both scenarios and compares the results.

Decker’s interest in gait and movement actually began when she competed in various track events as a college student in France. Her specialties were relay races (4x100 meters, 3x1000 meters) and individual races (400 meters and 800 meters). She spent time as a student athlete at the University of Evry Val-d’Essonne (where she earned a bachelor’s degree) and at the University of Pierre & Marie Curie (where she earned master’s and doctoral degrees). It was at this time that Decker realized the importance of understanding how humans move.

“I have always been interested in human movement variability and coordination,” Decker said. “My love of running inspired my doctoral research project and my research today at UNO.”

Decker selected UNO for her post-doctoral research after reading Innovative Analyses of Human Movement by Nicholas Stergiou, director of the Nebraska Biomechanics Core Facility.

Decker joined UNO in 2006 when she moved to Omaha from Paris, France. For the past four years Decker has worked in the Nebraska Biomechanics Core Facility on various research projects, including the causes of falling among the elderly. Decker also has long-standing intra-university collaborations with UNO and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Her national and international collaborators include the Pittsburgh Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center at the University of Pittsburgh; the University of Tromso, Norway and the Technical University of Libson, Portugal.

In August 2011, Decker will begin an assistant professorship in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at UNO.

For more information, call Wendy Townley, UNO University Relations, at (402) 554-2762.

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The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s metropolitan university. The core values of the institution place students at the center of all that the university does; call for the campus to strive for academic excellence; and promote community engagement that transforms and improves urban, regional, national and global life. UNO, inaugurated in 1968, emerged from the Municipal University of Omaha, established in 1931, which grew out of the University of Omaha founded in 1908.

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