Pedometer accuracy in nursing home and community-dwelling older adults

Elizabeth V Cyarto, Anita M Myers, Catrine Tudor-Locke
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2004, 36 (2): 205-9

PURPOSE: The accuracy of pedometers has not been thoroughly tested with older adult populations. The purpose of the present study was to examine the effects of walking speed and gait disorders on the accuracy of Yamax pedometers with nursing home residents (NH) relative to older adults living in the community.

METHODS: Pedometer accuracy was evaluated against observed steps taken during a self-paced walking test (slow, normal, and fast speeds) in 26 NH residents and 28 seniors' recreation center members (SC). Devices were attached to clothing at the waist. Walking speed was ascertained from the timed walk and a gait assessment was conducted. Percent error was calculated as ([pedometer steps - observed steps]/observed steps) x 100.

RESULTS: The walking speeds of both samples increased across self-selected paces (P < 0.0001). The community-dwelling older adults walked significantly faster (P < 0.0001) in all trials and had significantly higher (P < 0.0001) gait assessment scores (indicating fewer gait problems). Gait scores were positively associated with walking speed and pedometer percent error. Pedometers significantly underestimated NH residents' observed steps taken by 74% (slow), 55% (normal), and 46% (fast) paces (P < 0.0001). In the SC sample, the instruments failed to detect 25%, 13%, and 7% of actual steps taken, respectively (P < 0.0001). The magnitude of the error was greater for NH versus SC older adults (P < 0.0001) across all trials.

CONCLUSIONS: Slow walking speed and gait disorders hamper the utility of pedometers for physical activity measurement in frail seniors, such as NH residents, when worn at the usual attachment site. Pedometers, however, can be confidently used with ostensibly healthy older adult populations for both assessment and motivation purposes.

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