Do dual tasks have an added value over single tasks for balance assessment in fall prevention programs? A mini-review

A Zijlstra, T Ufkes, D A Skelton, L Lundin-Olsson, W Zijlstra
Gerontology 2008, 54 (1): 40-9

BACKGROUND: The Prevention of Falls Network Europe (ProFaNE) aims to bring together European researchers and clinicians to focus on the development of effective falls prevention programs for older people. One of the objectives is to identify suitable balance assessment tools. Assessment procedures that combine a balance task with a cognitive task may be relevant since part of all falls occurs during dual-task performance of walking or other balance activities.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate whether dual-task balance assessments are more sensitive than single balance tasks in predicting falls and detecting changes in balance performance after fall interventions.

METHODS: A systematic literature search was performed in the databases PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, AMED, PsycINFO and Cochrane. Articles were selected according to the following inclusion criteria: (1) population: older adults (mean age > or =65 years), (2) assessment tool: dual task combining gait or other balance task with a cognitive task, (3) design: prospective or retrospective data collection of falls, or intervention study. Analysis of papers focused on measures of predictive ability or sensitivity-to-change for both tasks during dual-task performance as well as for the single balance and cognitive task.

RESULTS: Out of 114 dual-task studies in older people, 19 articles matched the inclusion criteria. Fourteen studies had sample sizes of 60 subjects or less; the studied populations, task combinations as well as other methodological aspects varied. None of the articles reported the same statistical measures for both tasks during dual-task performance as well as single balance and cognitive task. In two studies with prospective data collection of falls, higher odds ratios were found for the dual compared to the single balance task.

CONCLUSIONS: Upon the available literature, conclusions for an added value of dual balance tasks for fall prediction or assessing fall intervention effects cannot be made due to incomplete comparisons of single and dual balance tasks. Nevertheless, two studies do provide an indication that dual balance tasks may have added value for fall prediction.

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