Gait in Very Preterm School-Aged Children in Dual-Task Paradigms

Priska Hagmann-von Arx, Olivia Manicolo, Nadine Perkinson-Gloor, Peter Weber, Alexander Grob, Sakari Lemola
PloS One 2015, 10 (12): e0144363

OBJECTIVE: The control of gait requires executive and attentional functions. As preterm children show executive and attentional deficits compared to full-term children, performing concurrent tasks that impose additional cognitive load may lead to poorer walking performance in preterm compared to full-term children. Knowledge regarding gait in preterm children after early childhood is scarce. We examined straight walking and if it is more affected in very preterm than in full-term children in dual-task paradigms.

STUDY DESIGN: Twenty preterm children with very low birth-weight (≤ 1500 g), 24 preterm children with birth-weight > 1500 g, and 44 full-term children, born between 2001 and 2006, were investigated. Gait was assessed using an electronic walkway system (GAITRite) while walking without a concurrent task (single-task) and while performing one concurrent (dual-task) or two concurrent (triple-task) tasks. Spatio-temporal gait parameters (gait velocity, cadence, stride length, single support time, double support time), normalized gait parameters (normalized velocity, normalized cadence, normalized stride length) and gait variability parameters (stride velocity variability, stride length variability) were analyzed.

RESULTS: In dual- and triple-task conditions children showed decreased gait velocity, cadence, stride length, as well as increased single support time, double support time and gait variability compared to single-task walking. Further, results showed systematic decreases in stride velocity variability from preterm children with very low birth weight (≤ 1500 g) to preterm children with birth weight > 1500 g to full-term children. There were no significant interactions between walking conditions and prematurity status.

CONCLUSIONS: Dual and triple tasking affects gait of preterm and full-term children, confirming previous results that walking requires executive and attentional functions. Birth-weight dependent systematic changes in stride velocity variability indicate poorer walking performance in preterm children who were less mature at birth.

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