Background and purpose. Whether turning their head to look down a grocery store aisle or having a conversation on an evening stroll, people perform additional tasks while they walk. There is evidence that as walking becomes more difficult, either due to aging or illness, simultaneously performing other tasks can affect gait. The purpose of this study was to show that gait performance declines more in the older group than in younger adults in the presence of the secondary tasks of horizontal head rotations and cognition.
Methods. Seventy-six subjects were divided into two groups according to age. There were 40 subjects in the 18-27 year old group and 36 subjects in the 52-92 year old group. Each subject walked on a GAITRite™ gait mat five times at their normal pace; three trials with the single task of ambulation, one trial with the additional task of horizontal head rotations, and one trial with the additional task of cognition. For each condition, five gait parameters were collected using the gait mat and changes in these parameters were calculated with the addition of the secondary tasks. These changes between single and dual task conditions were compared between the young and old populations.
Results. Statistically significant differences were found between the young and old populations for the head turning task and the parameters of velocity (p=0.0006), stride length (p=0.0009), base of support (p=0.0035), and angle range (p=0.0209) and for the cognitive task and the parameters of velocity (p=0.0002), stride length (p=0.0067), and angle range (p=O.0105). No statistically significant changes were found between the young and old populations for the cognitive task and base of support and with either dual task condition and double limb support single limb support ratio.
Conclusion and Discussion. The results of this study suggest that a greater change in the gait parameters of velocity, stride length, and angle range occurs with age when the secondary tasks of horizontal head rotations and cognition are added to the primary tasks of ambulation. Changes in base of support are greater in older people when the secondary task of horizontal head rotations is added to ambulation.
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