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It is widely assumed that healthy aging includes a decline in the stability of standing body sway. Certainly, the spatial magnitude of postural sway increases with age. However, the interpretation of this effect as a decline in the ability to stabilize posture rests, in part, on assumptions about the nature and definition of stability in stance. In this article, I review data on the control of standing posture in healthy older adults. I focus on a growing list of studies that demonstrate the retention, among healthy older adults, of the ability functionally to modulate postural sway in support of “suprapostural” activities. I address laboratory research, but also field studies carried out in a setting that dramatically challenges the control of stance: life on ships at sea. I argue that it may be possible, and certainly will be useful, to address directly the functional control of stance in older adults.
Stoffregen is with the School of Kinesiology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.