Challenging balance training that targets age-related neuromuscular and motor coordination deficits is needed for effective fall prevention therapy. Goal-directed training can provide intrinsically motivating balance activities but may not equally challenge balance for all age groups. Therefore, the purpose of this research was to quantify age-specific effects of dynamic balance training with real-time visual feedback. Kinematics, muscle activity, and user perceptions were collected for forty healthy adults (20 younger, 18–39 years; 20 older, 58–74 years), who performed a single balance training session with or without real-time visual feedback. Feedback involved controlling either a physical mobile robot or screen-based virtual ball through a course with standing tilt motions from an instrumented wobble board. Dynamic balance training was more challenging for older compared to younger adults, as measured by significantly higher dorsiflexor and knee extensor muscle activity and ankle co-contractions (50%–80%, p<0.05). Older participants also performed more motion while training without feedback compared to younger adults (22%–65%, p<0.05). Robotic and virtual real-time visual feedback elicited similar biomechanical adaptations in older adults, reducing motions to similar levels as younger adults and increasing ankle co-contractions (p<0.05). Despite higher muscular demand, perceived physical exertion and high enjoyment levels (Intrinsic Motivation Inventory >0.80) were consistent across groups. However, robotic visual feedback may be more challenging than virtual feedback based on more frequent balance corrections, lower perceived competence, and lower game scores for older compared to younger adults. These findings collectively support the feedback system’s potential to provide engaging and challenging at-home balance training across the lifespan.
Wobble board; Goal-directed; Muscle activation; Aging; Therapy