Leah Bent

Email Address
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Research Description

With age and pathology, there is an increase in the difficulties associated with mobility. These changes alter the freedom and independence of the aging population and can largely be attributed to a decline in sensory function. The primary goals of my research program are 1) to understand where posture is controlled 2) to understand what sensory information contributes to successful movement and equilibrium.

Research Summary

The primary goals of my research program are 1) to understand where posture is controlled 2) to understand what sensory information contributes to successful movement and equilibrium.
By investigating these two key questions I believe we will have a better understanding of how sensory decline contributes to a loss of mobility as we age. Declines in sensory information are often replaced by other sensory modalities through compensation. Does this take place at the level of the spinal cord, or further upstream with changes in cortical plasticity? Are we able to develop facilitatory devices such as shoe insoles to improve cutaneous sensation or visual aids to enhance visual cues?
My research program involves two key areas of study:
1) To perform direct recordings from sensory afferents and motor efferents in awake human subjects to investigate sensory contributions to movement, balance control, and reflex responses.
2) To elicit balance perturbations to test the function of these reflex loops, and sensory contributions to the maintenance of equilibrium and postural control.

Techniques Used

I use several techniques to investigate sensory contributions to standing balance. To perturb the vestibular system I use the technique of Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation (GVS), which alters the firing of peripheral vestibular afferents and changes the perception of vertical. Microneurography is another technique used in my laboratory. This tool enables direct recordings from afferent and efferent nerve fibres in awake humans. The advantage of microneurography is that it enables a level of investigation currently unafforded by other approaches. To examine contributions from cortical areas in the control of movement, I use a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS allows us to probe central contributions to postural reflex loops by enabling us to excite or inhibit descending input from the brain.

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