B.Pt. 1986 (Physical Therapy); M.Sc. 1995 (Human Movement Sciences); Ph.D. 1999 (Human Movement Sciences); Habilitation (Venia Legendi) ETH, Zurich, Switzerland, 2010 (Motor Control and Learning).
General description: The health and well-being of a person depends on the complex interactions in physical, cognitive and social domains [cf. International Classification of Functioning (ICF) by the World Health Organisation, Geneva (see http://www.who.int/classification/icf)]. Even in the absence of overt pathology, motor functioning can deteriorate, as evidenced by the incidence and impact of falls in aging populations. Falls are one of the most common reasons for medical intervention in older people and their occurrence might initiate a vicious cycle of decline leading to fear of falling, nursing home admittance and loss of independence. Falls among older adult populations often occur during walking, and gait dysfunction is included among the many risk factors for falls.
Although more traditional training programmes are able to increase muscle strength and improve balance and, therefore, positively influence some measures of gait, they often do not impact on spatial and temporal characteristics of gait that are associated with distinct brain networks. Because these gait characteristics are associated with distinct brain networks, it can be hypothesised that addressing neuronal losses in these networks may be an important strategy to prevent mobility disability in older adults.
A way to bring in a cognitive element into an exercise program is the use of virtual reality techniques. There are some reports on the use and effects of virtual reality exergaming-training in various populations. Methods using immersive computer technologies resulted in improved motor functions of upper extremities and a cortical activation after virtual reality intervention in patients with chronic stroke. Older adults benefited from training in terms of improved functional abilities, postural control and simple auditory reaction times under dual task conditions.
My research @KI will focus on the relation between the use of exergames and their influence on physical & cognitive functioning of elderly. As people age, a self-reinforcing, downwards spiral of reduced interaction with challenging environments and reduced brain health significantly contribute to cognitive decline. Furthermore, brain activity needs to be able to adapt to challenges posed from the environment. Novel training paradigms; e.g. virtual reality interaction exergaming, indicate they might be able to effect on brain functioning in elderly. My research will specifically address  the theoretical relevance of novel Exergame training approaches and  help establishing research data that underpin the relevance of novel diagnostic systems and game-based brain exercise training that specifically focus on aspects of neuromuscular functioning in (frail) elderly aimed at ameliorating cognitive & physical function.
My research focus is on the intimately linked motor and cognitive aspects of human movement and age-related risk of falling. I strive to extend our findings ‘from bench to bedside’ using efficient combinations of basic and advanced technologies to capture the plasticity of central and peripheral motor control systems as well as of cognition in response to physical activity and training interventions.
Studying the mechanisms of healthy ageing and changing neuromuscular control in the multidisciplinary department of NVS at KI allows us to develop experimental procedures involving molecular and nutritional, biomechanical, and neurophysiological measures. We strive to do this by performing gait analysis, cognitive testing and CNS assessment using motion capturing, inertial sensors, surface electromyography and electroencephalography, functional near-infrared spectroscopy and access to magnetic resonance imaging.
The long-term strategy aims to extend gained insights from healthy populations to clinical disorders. The focus is on the development of novel motor-cognitive training concepts, aimed at improving motor and cognitive adaptations as well as brain-muscle functional connectivity during locomotion in ageing populations.