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Exploring the challenges of avoiding collisions with virtual pedestrians using a dual-task paradigm in individuals with chronic moderate to severe traumatic brain injury.

BACKGROUND: Individuals with a moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury (m/sTBI), despite experiencing good locomotor recovery six months post-injury, face challenges in adapting their locomotion to the environment. They also present with altered cognitive functions, which may impact dual-task walking abilities. Whether they present collision avoidance strategies with moving pedestrians that are altered under dual-task conditions, however, remains unclear. This study aimed to compare between individuals with m/sTBI and age-matched control individuals: (1), the locomotor and cognitive costs associated with the concurrent performance of circumventing approaching virtual pedestrians (VRPs) while attending to an auditory-based cognitive task and; (2) gaze behaviour associated with the VRP circumvention task in single and dual-task conditions.

METHODOLOGY: Twelve individuals with m/sTBI (age = 43.3 ± 9.5 yrs; >6 mo. post injury) and 12 healthy controls (CTLs) (age = 41.8 ± 8.3 yrs) were assessed while walking in a virtual subway station viewed in a head-mounted display. They performed a collision avoidance task with VRPs, as well as auditory-based cognitive tasks (pitch discrimination and auditory Stroop), both under single and dual-task conditions. Dual-task cost (DTC) for onset distance of trajectory deviation, minimum distance from the VRP, maximum lateral deviation, walking speed, gaze fixations and cognitive task accuracy were contrasted between groups using generalized estimating equations.

RESULTS: In contrast to CTLs who showed locomotor DTCs only, individuals with m/sTBI displayed both locomotor and cognitive DTCs. While both groups walked slower under dual-task conditions, only individuals with m/sTBI failed to modify their onset distance of trajectory deviation and maintained smaller minimum distances and smaller maximum lateral deviation compared to single-task walking. Both groups showed shorter gaze fixations on the approaching VRP under dual-task conditions, but this reduction was less pronounced in the individuals with m/sTBI. A reduction in cognitive task accuracy under dual-task conditions was found in the m/sTBI group only.

CONCLUSION: Individuals with m/sTBI present altered locomotor and gaze behaviours, as well as altered cognitive performances, when executing a collision avoidance task involving moving pedestrians in dual-task conditions. Potential mechanisms explaining those alterations are discussed. Present findings highlight the compromised complex walking abilities in individuals with m/sTBI who otherwise present a good locomotor recovery.

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