Identification of healthy elderly fallers and non-fallers by gait analysis under dual-task conditions

C Toulotte, A Thevenon, E Watelain, C Fabre
Clinical Rehabilitation 2006, 20 (3): 269-76

OBJECTIVE: We compared falling and non-falling healthy elderly subjects to identify balance disorders associated with falling. Gait parameters were determined when carrying out single and dual tasks.

DESIGN: Case comparison study.

SETTING: Subjects were studied in the gait laboratory at Hôpital Roger Salengro, Lille, France.

SUBJECTS: A group of 40 healthy elderly women were assigned to one of two groups according to their falling history: 21 fallers aged 70.4 +/- 6.4 years and 19 non-fallers aged 67.0 +/- 4.8 years. All subjects performed first a single leg balance test with two conditions (eyes open/closed). Then, gait parameters were analysed under single-task and dual motor-task conditions (walking with a glass of water in the hand).

MAIN MEASURES: Falls, number of times suspended foot touched the floor during the single leg balance test, cadence, speed, stride time, step time, single-support time, stride length and step length during walking under single- and dual-task conditions.

RESULTS: During the single leg balance test, fallers placed their feet on the floor three times more often than non-fallers under eyes open conditions (P < 0.05) and twice as often under eyes closed conditions (P < 0.05). In the single-task condition, no significant difference in gait parameters was reported between fallers and non-fallers. There was a significant difference (P < 0.05) in the gait parameters (cadence, speed, stride and step time, single-support time) between fallers and non-fallers under dual-task conditions.

CONCLUSIONS: Dual tasks perturb walking in fallers, who exhibit deteriorated static balance. Consequently, walking under dual-task conditions plus a single leg balance test could be helpful in detecting walking disorders and planning physiotherapy to prevent falls.

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