Step training improves the speed of voluntary step initiation in aging

Mark W Rogers, Marjorie E Johnson, Kathy M Martinez, Marie-Laure Mille, Lois D Hedman
Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 2003, 58 (1): 46-51

BACKGROUND: Falls related to balance dysfunction are among the major problems of older individuals. The timing characteristics of protective voluntary stepping are critically related to effective balance recovery and are often delayed and slowed with age. This study investigated the influence of step training on the timing characteristics of voluntary step initiation in younger and older adults.

METHODS: Voluntary reaction time stepping was evaluated before and after training in 12 younger adults and 8 healthy community-dwelling older adults who performed a 3-week regimen of either twice weekly induced step training (destabilizing large waist pulls) or voluntary step practice to a somatosensory reaction stimulus cue (nondestabilizing small waist pulls).

RESULTS: Overall, the first step initiation times were slower for the older than for the younger subjects for both the somatosensory reaction stimulus cue task and an auditory transfer cue task. Step completion time was completed earlier for the young posttraining subjects, and older subjects generally had a longer step length. Training resulted in significant reductions in step initiation timing for the old (17%) and young (15%) subjects. Across age groups, the induced training group showed greater reductions in step initiation time than the voluntary practice group for the auditory transfer cue task.

CONCLUSIONS: A 3-week period of either voluntary or waist-pull-induced step training reduced step initiation time in older and younger adults. Moreover, compared with voluntary step practice, induced step training resulted in a significantly greater improvement in reaction time stepping for an auditory transfer cue task. At least in the short term, such step training has the potential to help older adults perform more like younger adults in their step initiation timing.

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