Mirjam Pijnappels

Mirjam Pijnappels - 200x200The hidden complexity of our powers of locomotion do not become evident until something – for example, aging or disease – interferes with them. A fall can have serious consequences for an older person; a hip fracture is often the beginning of the end. My doctoral study concerned the influence of aging on balance control. To get a clear picture of what was going on, I got both young adults and elderly subjects to stumble under laboratory conditions. The main focus here was on biomechanics and neural control.

In 2014, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research NWO approved my application for funding for a large-scale study of the role overestimation and underestimation of one’s ability to walk play in falls.
My hypothesis is that older people who find it difficult to estimate their physical condition are at higher risk of falling. Both overestimation and underestimation of what they are capable of are risk factors here. Since this is a question of locomotor behaviour, a clinical psychologist was included in the research team.

The existence of the new Faculty of Behavioural and Human Movement Sciences creates more scope for setting up multidisciplinary research projects. I would like to work together with psychologists from within the faculty to study possible ways of getting elderly people who have adopted a passive lifestyle or suffer from depression to adopt a more active lifestyle. Specifically, we would like to investigate whether the elderly respond well to existing behavioural activation therapies, and whether this approach can be used to get them to take more, better exercise.

It is important to tailor the interventions used to get at the root of the problem involved. For example, elderly people may think that they are taking useful exercise if they walk upstairs, but it might be better to start by correcting errors in the way they walk upstairs. It is essential to find the answer to such questions in order to devise measures to deal effectively with the rapid aging of the population and to help older people to keep fit and active, and live in their own home for longer.