CWU News

CWU Biomechanics Researcher Strives to Reduce Falls in Elderly

As a way to mitigate the risks of falls, Central Washington University biomechanics professor Karen Roemer is now conducting research into determining how people initiate and maintain balance.

“I’m using biomechanical models to understand balance and the influences of factors, such as age, dexterity, and direction of movement,” Roemer said. “Specifically, I’m interested in the lower extremity and balance strategies.”

Millions of people, 65 and older, are treated in hospital emergency rooms annually because of falls, based on statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the American population ages, the number of falls―and the associated cost for treatment―are expected to increase.

“Trying to understand how we balance ourselves might give us some insight into developing better training programs so that we can, hopefully, avoid falls,” Roemer added.

Along with work currently underway in Ellensburg, Roemer will participate in an upcoming, three-month research fellowship at the Institute of Sports and Exercise Sciences at the University of Münster, one of Germany’s leading research institutions. Roemer will be joined by colleague Karen Zentgraf, a motor-control specialist who offers additional neurological expertise. The collaboration developed after a conference presentation Roemer made last year.

“We will give the test subjects some tasks, things to think about, to focus their eyes on certain spots, change their focus and see how these parameters influence their balance,” Roemer pointed out. “We want to get more insight into what’s going on with muscular coordination and what muscles are used with respect to joint mechanics.”

Pertaining to balance, recent studies have suggested that muscular and neurological changes become evident in people when they reach their late 50s and early 60s, regardless of how active they are.

“Obviously, activity level can influence the impact on a person but, as there are changes occurring no matter what, the question becomes is there actually anything that can be done, or do we just need to understand what’s going on?” Roemer added. “We want to understand how joints react, what loads and torques occur, and how pressure is distributed under the foot. We want to try to understand connections, and determine how things might change with age.”

Roemer, who launched the CWU biomechanics program and development of the university’s state-of-the-art human motion-analysis laboratory three years ago, teaches both basic and sports biomechanics. Her previous research included work with the German national volleyball team, analyzing volleyball spikes. Her unit—the CWU Department of Nutrition, Exercise, and Health Sciences—is also now initiating master’s-level courses in musculoskeletal biomechanics.

Media contact: Robert Lowery, director of Radio Services and Integrated Communications, 509-963-1487,

January 20, 2016