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STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 08/12/2008


FEATURE | New Center for Balance, Mobility and Wellness Opens

The CBMW will be both a resource to the community and a venue for education and research.
by Patricia Hanlon

I am now middle-aged. There have been many small warnings--the invitation in the mail to join the AARP; my new, avid interest in the details of friends' knee-replacement surgeries; the slower metabolism that rules out bacon-double cheeseburgers. I am, in short, part of that demographic group known as the Baby Boomers. In the next decade we will be reaching retirement age in enormous numbers.

Enter Gordon's new, expanded Center for Balance, Mobility and Wellness (CBMW) for those 55 and over. The recently completed 6,500-square-foot facility, located at the Brigham Athletic Complex on Gordon's campus, had its grand opening June 14. It features clinical, academic and research expertise for the treatment of neurological, vestibular, and balance and gait disorders.

Headed by Clinical Director Marie Lucey, P.T., and CBMW Center and Research Director Sean Clark, Ph.D., the original center opened in 2002. Since that time over 1,000 clients have been treated in a small space within Gordon's Bennett Athletic and Recreation Center. The new Center will continue to provide specialized physical therapy on an individualized basis, but the expanded facility, which partners with Gordon's Department of Kinesiology, will allow many more clients to receive treatment and will provide expanded services to those who struggle with balance and mobility problems. It will also offer wellness programming for healthy adults 55 and over. "This new center will be unrivaled in its ability to address the acute and long-term physical needs of aging adults," says Peter Iltis, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Kinesiology.

A Community Resource
Marie Lucey notes that many people she sees for short-term physical therapy (PT) have chronic problems as well. The new facility gives them a place to return to after a specific program of PT is over. "We're trying to change the paradigm for how care is delivered," Marie says, "addressing needs that don't always fit neatly into a PT category."

In interviewing Marie, I mentioned my mother, whose advanced osteoporosis made her cripplingly sedentary in the last years of her life. Her fear of breaking bones was well-founded, but inactivity made the problem far worse. "No matter what age you are or what physical challenges you face, you can improve physical function through training," Marie responded. "If you can only do one thing to improve your health, exercise is that one thing. Whether you're 55 or 95 we can build a program of exercise that addresses your needs."

A distinctive of the new Center is its wellness training area, where both graduates of the outpatient physical therapy
and healthy adults aged 55 years and older can proactively pursue healthy aging with greater independence. The emphasis is on improving strength, balance, aerobic fitness, and flexibility. "Since many age-related declines in physical function are the result of inactivity and disuse," Iltis says, "this part of the facility plays a vital preventative role--enabling aging adults to retain and even improve their physical status through carefully prescribed exercise training." It's also a friendly environment for people who may find conventional gyms uncomfortable. "It's spandex-free," Iltis quips. "It creates a quiet, nonintimidating atmosphere for people 55 and over. There are no mirrors, no free weights, no weight machines . . . all the strength-training equipment is pneumatic and virtually silent."

Balance Building--Taking it a Step Further
The new balance-training room is circuit style with exercise stations that challenge various balance-related systems. "Maintaining balance is a surprisingly complex task," Clark says. "The ability to use information from multiple sensory systems and effectively coordinate muscle responses during movement performance is often overlooked until these abilities are lost." Recognizing the effects of disuse and age-associated changes on balance-related systems, the balance-training room has been designed to expose individuals to a variety of balance-challenging activities. The room is equipped with a full-body overhead harness system designed to allow people to perform these balance exercises safely.

One exercise involves an adapted version of "Dance Dance Revolution," a guided exercise routine set to music and popular with young people. Kinesiology majors Alicia Heelan '07 and Tiffany Kelly '09 have been involved in developing stepping patterns to an age-appropriate mix of songs--everything from show tunes to Big Band to Neil Diamond. Clients compete against themselves, measuring how accurately they hit the steps on the dance pad.

The facility is also the first on the North Shore to provide individuals with access to the ActiveStep™ treadmill developed by Simbex Corporation of Lebanon, New Hampshire--a fall-risk assessment and fall-prevention training system. ActiveStep™ offers its users a method to relearn their natural "recovery response" when balance is lost due to slips or trips. The treadmill simulates different slips and trips and measures one's ability to step and recover. Early research conducted with this device has been encouraging in terms of reducing fall risk in some elderly people--an important consideration in Massachusetts, where the incidence of deaths related to falls increased by two-thirds from 2005 to 2006.

A Clinical/Research Connection
With its close ties to Gordon's Department of Kinesiology, the CBMW is both a clinical and a research facility; research both informs and is informed by what happens at the CBMW day to day. Iltis notes, "Studies show that balance improves not just with strength training but with exercise--but there's no consensus on which exercises. We're hoping to contribute to this. We want to stay on the cutting edge with evidence-based solutions for balance and mobility problems."

Students in the Kinesiology Department at Gordon work with the therapists and clients through internships at the Center. "Students will receive training and have onsite accessibility to balance disorder resources not available at many other liberal arts college programs in the country," says Iltis. Interns will also work alongside therapists by assisting with fitness screenings, learning assessment techniques for specific vestibular disorders, giving presentations on wellness, or assisting with exercise or therapy sessions. "Students will be actively engaged in the process of linking theory into practice. This engagement provides a tremendous research facility for the College's faculty and students to investigate key questions pertaining to our field," says Clark.

Clark and Iltis are passionate about this new venture. "It's fascinating to study the human body in the context of elite performance," says Iltis. "The Center is dedicated to applying the same kind of study to the other end of human performance. What's our vision for redeeming disordered human movement? That's what this facility is all about."



Patricia Hanlon, M.A., director of publications at Gordon, has not yet joined the AARP. She is an expatriate southern Californian who came east to marry Gordon grad Robert Hanlon '77.

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