A comparison of gait stability between younger and older adults while head turning

Abstract

Head turning while walking may challenge stability by altering visual and vestibular information. Whether there are age-related changes that affect gait stability while head turning during walking remains unknown. The aim of the current study was to compare gait stability between younger and older adults immediately following a head turn while walking. Ten younger [mean (SD)] [23.4 (3.3) years] and ten older [68.8 (6.0) years] healthy adults walked on a treadmill at their preferred gait velocity and performed head turns by responding to a visual cue. The margin of stability (MoS) in the mediolateral (MoSML), anterior (MoSA) and posterior (MoSP) directions, foot placement (mean step length and width) and rotation of the head, trunk and pelvis were calculated for the four steps immediately following a cue to head turn and compared to walking only. Older adults increased their MoSML and younger adults increased their MoSP immediately following a head turn. However, older adults had a significantly greater MoSP than younger adults during this time. Older adults also had greater pelvic rotation velocity and a trend towards smaller head-on-trunk rotation compared to younger adults. Age does not compromise the stability of healthy older compared to younger adults immediately following or when completing a head turn. However, older adults may use a different motor strategy to perform a head turn to limit isolated movement of the head and the effects of a changing sensory frame of reference.

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Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to gratefully acknowledge Dr. Chris Wang and Mr. Brendan Howe for their technical assistance in the laboratory, as well as the participants who volunteered for this study.

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CF was involved in data collection, data processing and analysis, and was the major contributor in writing the manuscript. DT was involved in study design, data collection, data processing and analysis, interpretation of the data and was a contributor in writing the manuscript. AZ was involved in data collection and was a contributor in writing the manuscript. PJC was a contributor in writing the manuscript. AG was involved in study design, was a contributor in writing the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Amitabh Gupta.

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Ethical approval was obtained for the current study from the institutional Human Research Ethics Committee (Reference: H11409). All participants provided written informed consent prior to participating in the study.

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Fitzgerald, C., Thomson, D., Zebib, A. et al. A comparison of gait stability between younger and older adults while head turning. Exp Brain Res (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-020-05846-3

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Keywords

  • Walking
  • Falls
  • Margin of stability
  • Balance