Lab projects

Understanding changes in walking during various emotional states

Primary Investigator: Kaylena Ehgoetz Martens

Student Investigator: Abhishesh Homagain

From movies to television to animation, the pattern of how humans walk or their gait, has been a tool used to implicitly convey emotion. The aim of this study was to investigate this further and quantify how our bodies move and walk differently when we experience different emotions. Using virtual reality and immersive video to induce different emotions in individuals, we can use motion capture to measure specific changes in movement and catalogue them to specific emotions. This will help researchers who are interested in how emotion is experienced by the whole body and how our muscles and movement change based on the states of our brains. It can also help clinicians and doctors who can potentially use gait as a way to study different psychiatric or neurodegenerative diseases that cause mood swings or abrupt changes in emotional states.

Evaluating visual feedback to modify gait in virtual reality

Primary Investigator: Kaylena Ehgoetz Martens

Research Assistant: Alicia Cole

This project is a collaboration with the University of Sydney, wherein data collected from the University of Sydney was analyzed in our lab. The purpose of this study was to determine how trait anxiety (characteristic of the individual) and state anxiety (induced by the individual’s current circumstances/environment) can impact a person’s ability to use visual feedback of their lower limbs to modify and control their walking. In this study, virtual reality was used to induce anxiety by asking young healthy participants to walk across a plank of varying heights and widths, such that a higher or narrower plank would induce state anxiety. Visual feedback of participant’s lower limbs was provided (using an avatar) in some trials but not in others, thus the participants were only able to see their legs while walking in half of the trials. Factors such as the participants’ gait parameters (i.e. walking speed, step length, etc.) and anxiety levels were measured during each trial in order to determine the effects of anxiety and visual feedback on walking. We hope that this study will lead to a better understanding of factors affecting an individual’s ability to utilize visual feedback to modify their walking.  

Does anxiety impact walking? A virtual reality study

Primary Investigator: Kaylena Ehgoetz Martens

Student Investigator: Pershia Norouzian

Attentional processes and sensory feedback have been suggested to play a role in posture and gait control during walking. Additionally, having an anxious state of mind caused from potential threat has been consistently shown to alter walking patterns and postural stability in both young and elderly adults. Even stable characteristics such as trait anxiety, in the absence of threat, have been shown to impact walking and posture. Researchers suggest that anxiety reduces an individuals’ cognitive capacity by impacting attentional resources and higher-level mental functions which, in turn, can have an impact on gait. Additionally, research has shown vital links between utilization of visual feedback and an individual's ability to control and modify gait. However, there is a lack of research examining the root, underlying mechanism that explains how anxiety (both state and trait) interferes with gait control. This research used virtual reality to further examine how state and trait anxiety impact gait and whether attention and/or sensory feedback modulates this relationship by walking in low and high anxiety virtual environments, as well as walking in these environments while performing a secondary task.

Early detection and prediction of synucleinopathic diseases

Primary Investigator: Kaylena Ehgoetz Martens

Student Investigator: Karen Mathias

Neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson’s disease (PD) and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) are becoming increasingly common in our aging society. There is currently no cure for these disorders and unfortunately by the time a firm diagnosis is made, substantial cell loss has already taken place limiting treatment options. If there is any hope of slowing or halting disease progression it is critical to detect these diseases early on. Therefore, the Early Detection and Prediction of Synucleinopathic Diseases project aimed to map motor and non-motor biomarkers of Lewy body disease (i.e., Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies) during the early and prodromal stages of disease. The Neurocognition and Mobility lab in collaboration with Dr. Simon Lewis’ research group at the University of Sydney combine clinical (e.g., upper limb movements, walking), neuropsychological (e.g., muscle atonia and brain waves from scalp electroencephalogram during sleep) and brain imaging methods (i.e., structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning) to investigate early biomarkers of disease.  

Understanding the influence of affective disorders on gait in Parkinson's disease

Primary Investigator: Kaylena Ehgoetz Martens

Student Investigator: Pershia Norouzian

Depression is the most common affective disturbance faced by individuals with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Whilst a growing body of work has examined the relationship between walking ability and emotional disturbance in young and older adults, less work has focused on individuals with PD, despite a higher prevalence in this population as opposed to general. Few studies have quantitatively examined the influence of depression on gait in PD, nor its impact on gait changes over time. This research will further examine how affective conditions like depression impact the gait of individuals with PD across different conditions that manipulate attentional demand by analyzing data collected by the Ontario Neurodegenerative Research Initiative (ONDRI).

Investigating cognitive, affective, and motor domain changes in individuals living with Parkinson's disease

Primary Investigator: Kaylena Ehgoetz Martens

Student Investigators: Michelle Faerman

Research Assistants: Cayli Cole and Alexandra Girlea

KIN 391 Students: Verena Siu and Ziad Elshafei

Freezing of gait (FOG) is a debilitating symptom of Parkinson’s disease (PD) characterized by the feeling of feet being “glued to the floor”. These temporary disturbances in walking are a leading cause of falls in individuals living with PD and eventually affect up to 80% of PD patients. This project led by Michelle Faerman utilizes data from the Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative (ONDRI) to track longitudinal changes in cognitive, affective, and motor domains in PD patients who develop FOG. She also investigates which specific factors within these domains are predictive of developing FOG. These findings could allow clinicians to predict those who may develop FOG earlier in the disease’s progression, potentially allowing for early intervention and personalized treatment plans to delay or prevent the onset of FOG altogether. Early intervention could translate to a greater sense of mobility, independence, and decreased fall risk in those living with PD who experience FOG. Michelle presented her findings in a poster presentation at The International Society of Posture & Gait World Congress in July 2022 in Montreal, QC.

Evaluating heterogeneity in freezing detection and prediction

Primary Investigator: Kaylena Ehgoetz Martens

Research Assistant: Alexandra Girlea

This project is a collaboration with the University of Sydney and will use freezing of gait data collected at the University of Sydney. This data will be used to understand the different subtypes of freezing that can occur in people living with Parkinson’s disease, and whether a broad analytic approach can accurately predict freezing episodes in the clinic or at home. Freezing is an incredibly debilitating motor symptom of Parkinson’s disease and can be described as a sudden inability for a person to walk, even if they intend to do so. Freezing manifests in different ways across individuals, and there are currently no treatments for freezing, creating difficulties for healthcare professionals and those living with Parkinson’s to manage, predict, or prevent freezing episodes. This project will first use the existing data to understand the effect of environment and medication on freezing occurrence, which will then be applied to an established algorithm that was developed and validated by Professor Arash Arami from the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at the University of Waterloo. This algorithm will be used to examine how different types of freezing can be detected in a home setting, as well as how freezing data analysis, processing, and application can be further improved. Ideally, this work can be used in future work to improve freezing monitoring and treatments, ultimately improving the quality of life for individuals living with Parkinson’s disease.

Investigating sensory driven balance deficits overtime in Parkinson's patients who develop freezing of gait

Primary Investigator: Kaylena Ehgoetz Martens 

Student Investigator: Cayli Cole

Freezing of gait (FOG) is a common yet debilitating symptom of Parkinson’s disease (PD), defined as a sudden inability to generate forward stepping, regardless of the intention to walk. It is a significant risk factor for recurrent falls in PD, and as such, impacts postural stability, mobility, independence and quality of life. Proprioceptive and vestibular deficits have been linked to FOG, implicated by balance, but no studies have examined whether sensory related balance deficits precede the development of FOG. This project utilizes data from the Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative (ONDRI) to examine balance longitudinally to compare the progression of sensory deficits between PD patients who develop FOG and those who do not. These findings could indicate that sensory deficits may be a predictor of FOG, and could lead to the incorporation of proprioceptive and vestibular training for PD patients with FOG or those who may go on to develop FOG. Cayli presented her findings in a poster presentation at The International Society of Posture & Gait World Congress in July 2022 in Montreal, QC.