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Fear & Falls: The role of psychological factors in the control of posture and gait in older adults


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  Dr Elmar Kal, Dr A Cocks  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Falls are a major health concern in the older adult (>65 years) population, affecting almost 30% of people on a yearly basis. Research has shown that increased fall risk is a multifactorial problem, to which physiological (e.g., vision loss), physical (e.g., reduced muscle strength) and cognitive factors (e.g., cognitive impairment) may all contribute.

However, psychological factors may also affect fall risk. Around 40% of older adults develop fear of falling. While we know this increases fall risk, we do not really understand why this is the case or how we can best address this.

Therefore, the main overarching aim of this project is to investigate how fear of falling affects the control of gait and balance in older adults. This is essential to develop potential interventions aimed to reduce its impact and by extension the risk of falling in older adults.

Applicants would ideally have a background in sports science, movement science, physiotherapy, and/or (sports) psychology, or related fields. It would be desirable if applicants have affinity/experience with movement analysis (e.g., motion tracking, electromyography, force plate assessments), eye-tracking technology, or psychological theories relevant to this area of research.

Funding Notes

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: https://www.brunel.ac.uk/research/Research-degrees/Research-degree-funding. The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.


• Bergen, G., Stevens, M. R., & Burns, E. R. (2016). Falls and fall injuries among adults aged≥ 65 years—United States, 2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 65(37), 993-998.
• Ellmers, T. J., Cocks, A. J., Kal, E. C., & Young, W. R. (2020). Conscious movement processing, fall-related anxiety, and the visuomotor control of locomotion in older adults. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 75(9), 1911-1920.
• Scheffer, A. C., Schuurmans, M. J., Van Dijk, N., Van Der Hooft, T., & De Rooij, S. E. (2008). Fear of falling: measurement strategy, prevalence, risk factors and consequences among older persons. Age and ageing, 37(1), 19-24.
• Young, W. R., & Williams, A. M. (2015). How fear of falling can increase fall-risk in older adults: applying psychological theory to practical observations. Gait & Posture, 41(1), 7-12.

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