Aims: To design simple tests of lateral stability for assessing balance in older people and to determine whether poor performances in these tests are associated with impaired vision, lower limb sensation, quadriceps strength, simple reaction time, and falling in this group.
Design: A cross-sectional and retrospective study.
Setting: Falls and Balance Laboratory, Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute.
Participants: One hundred fifty-six community-dwelling men and women aged 63-90 years (mean age 76.5, SD = 5.1).
Outcome measures: The maximal lateral sway in a near-tandem stability test with eyes open and closed and the necessity of taking a protective step in the near-tandem stability test with eyes closed.
Results: All 156 subjects could complete the near-tandem stability test with eyes open, but only 99 subjects (63.5%) could undertake the test with eyes closed without taking a protective step. Subjects with a history of falls had increased lateral sway both with eyes open and eyes closed as well as poorer visual acuity, proprioception, and quadriceps strength. Fallers were also significantly more likely to take a protective step when undertaking the near-tandem stability test with eyes closed. Multiple regression analysis revealed that impaired lower limb proprioception, quadriceps strength, and reaction time were the best predictors of increased maximal sway in the near-tandem stability test with eyes open. Reduced proprioception and quadriceps strength, in addition to age, were also found to be the best determinants of the necessity of taking a protective step in the near-tandem stability test with eyes closed.
Conclusions: The study findings identify simple new tests that are associated with falling in older people and elucidate the relative importance of specific physiological systems in the maintenance of lateral stability.