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Stepping over obstacles: Attention demands and aging

Harley, C., Wilkie, R.M. and Wann, J.P. (2009) Stepping over obstacles: Attention demands and aging. Gait & Posture, 29 (3). pp. 428-432. ISSN 0966-6362

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Older adults have been shown to trip on obstacles despite taking precautions to step carefully. It has been demonstrated in dual-task walking that age-related decline in cognitive and attentional mechanisms can compromise postural management. This is yet to be substantiated during obstacle negotiation when walking. Forty-six healthy volunteers (aged 20-79 years) stepped over obstacles in their path whilst walking and performing a verbal fluency task. Using 3D kinematic analysis we compared obstacle crossing during single (obstacle crossing only) and dual-task (obstacle crossing with verbal task) conditions. We grouped the participants into three age groups and examined age-related changes to cognitive interference on obstacle crossing. During dual-task trials, the 20-29 and 60-69 groups stepped closer to the obstacles prior to crossing, increased vertical toe-obstacle clearance, and had reduced gait variability. In these two groups there was a small dual-task decrease in verbal output. The 70-79 group applied similar dual-task stepping strategies during pre-crossing. However, during crossing they showed reduced vertical toe-to-obstacle clearance and increased variability of obstacle-to-heel distance. Additionally, this group did not show any significant change to verbal output across trials. These results suggest that with advanced age, increased cognitive demands are more likely to have a detrimental impact on motor performance, leading to compromised safety margins and increased variability in foot placement. We conclude that younger adults utilise a posture-preserving strategy during complex tasks but the likelihood of this strategy being used decreases with advanced age.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Aging, obstacle negotiation, dual-task, human locomotion, cognition
Institution: The University of Leeds
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Medicine and Health (Leeds) > Institute of Molecular Medicine (LIMM) (Leeds)
The University of Leeds > Faculty of Medicine and Health (Leeds) > School of Psychology (Leeds)
Funding Information:
FunderGrant number
Depositing User: Dr Richard M Wilkie
Date Deposited: 19 May 2009 14:32
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2014 01:33
Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gaitpost.2008.10.063
Status: Published
Publisher: Elsevier
Refereed: Yes
Identification Number: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2008.10.063
Related URLs:
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/8605

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