Attention, frailty, and falls: the effect of a manual task on basic mobility

L Lundin-Olsson, L Nyberg, Y Gustafson
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 1998, 46 (6): 758-61

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the effect of a second task on balance and gait maneuvers used in everyday life. Our hypothesis was that those who were more distracted by a familiar manual task performed concurrently with functional maneuvers were more frail and more prone to falls.

DESIGN: A cross-sectional design with prospective follow-up for falls.

SETTING: Sheltered accommodation in Umeå, Sweden.

PARTICIPANTS: Forty-two residents (30 women, 12 men; mean age +/- SD = 79.7 +/- 6.1 years), ambulant with or without a walking aid, able to follow simple instructions and able to carry a tumbler.

MEASUREMENTS: Timed Up & Go (TUG), i.e., the time taken to rise from an armchair, walk 3 meters, turn round, and sit down again. TUG was repeated with an added manual task (TUGmanual), which was to carry a glass of water while walking. The Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale, Barthel Index, Functional Reach, Mini-Mental State Examination, and Line Bisection test were used to assess for frailty. The subjects were followed-up prospectively regarding falls indoors for a period of 6-months.

RESULTS: Subjects with a time difference (diffTUG) between TUGmanual and TUG of > or = 4.5 seconds were considered to be distracted by the second task. Ten subjects had a difference in time of > or = 4.5 seconds. These subjects were more frail, and seven of them fell indoors during the follow-up period (odds ratio 4.7, 95%Confidence Interval (CI) 1.5-14.2).

CONCLUSION: The time difference between the TUGmanual and the TUG appears to be a valid marker of frailty and a useful tool for identifying older persons prone to falling.

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