PHOTO CREDIT: MELINA SAMPAIO MANFRINATTI
A 2012 study published in the scientific journal Gait and Posture demonstrated that people texting while walking are slower and more likely to wander. PHOTO CREDIT: MELINA SAMPAIO MANFRINATTI

Every few weeks, Brianna O’Neill, a graduate student studying chemistry, will take a look at Stony Brook-related science and research news.

Even during a short walk on campus, it is hard not to notice the number of people using their cell phones while walking.

Several years ago, this would have meant only talking on the phone, but since the early 2000s, texting, social media and email seem to prevail as the key distractions. People walk into objects, trip over unforeseen obstacles and even fall off the sidewalk because of these handheld distractions.

Eric Lamberg and Lisa Muratori, associate professors in the Department of Physical Therapy, have scientifically tackled this issue to prove that cell phone use can pose a true threat to those who are trying to simultaneously walk and text. They studied the effects of talking and texting on gait, or manner of walking, in a 2012 study published in the scientific journal Gait and Posture.

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The participants of this study had to walk to a target while answering questions through either talking or texting. The researchers measured the distance away from the intended target and how the speed of their walk was affected.

It was shown that people that were texting walked slower and were less able to reach the target, possibly due to the burden on their memories of remembering where the keys of the phone are, answering the questions and trying to reach the correct target.

In this study, Lamberg and Muratori wrote that the next level of this experiment would be to work on a non-flat surface and measure the effects. The experiment was recently highlighted in a segment on ABC’s Good Morning America.

The researchers’ work with walking, however, extends beyond cell phone use and into researching how to improve the quality of life of people with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease affects fine motor function and walking due to the death of cells in the nervous system.

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By understanding what pieces of cognition are active in healthy people, aiding innovations can be developed and walking can be improved for patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

“We will be looking for changes in overground (off the treadmill walking) as our primary outcome,” Muratori said. “We will measure cognition pre- and post-training as well with those changes considered secondary targets.”

Patients, while walking on a treadmill, are immersed in a gaming environment to complete tasks that require attention, memory and decision making.

The greatest reward of this research is to have “the potential to help these people with degenerative disease sustain the best quality of life for the most amount of time,” Muratori said.

Whether studying the effects of cellphone use or developing novel therapies, this team of researchers is making great strides in answering questions about walking.

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