Attention demanding tasks during treadmill walking reduce step width variability in young adults

J Neuroeng Rehabil. 2005 Aug 8;2:25. doi: 10.1186/1743-0003-2-25.


Background: The variability of step time and step width is associated with falls by older adults. Further, step time is significantly influenced when performing attention demanding tasks while walking. Without exception, step time variability has been reported to increase in normal and pathologically aging older adults. Because of the role of step width in managing frontal plane dynamic stability, documenting the influence of attention-demanding tasks on step width variability may provide insight to events that can disturb dynamic stability during locomotion and increase fall risk. Preliminary evidence suggests performance of an attention demanding task significantly decreases step width variability of young adults walking on a treadmill. The purpose of the present study was to confirm or refute this finding by characterizing the extent and direction of the effects of a widely used attention demanding task (Stroop test) on the step width variability of young adults walking on a motorized treadmill.

Methods: Fifteen healthy young adults walked on a motorized treadmill at a self-selected velocity for 10 minutes under two conditions; without performing an attention demanding task and while performing the Stroop test. Step width of continuous and consecutive steps during the collection was derived from the data recorded using a motion capture system. Step width variability was computed as the standard deviation of all recorded steps.

Results: Step width decreased four percent during performance of the Stroop test but the effect was not significant (p = 0.10). In contrast, the 16 percent decrease in step width variability during the Stroop test condition was significant (p = 0.029).

Conclusion: The results support those of our previous work in which a different attention demanding task also decreased step width variability of young subjects while walking on a treadmill. The decreased step width variability observed while performing an attention demanding task during treadmill walking may reflect a voluntary gait adaptation toward a more conservative gait pattern emphasizing frontal plane control of the trunk. Extension of the experimental paradigm to older adults and mechanistic approaches to link step width variability to dynamic stability, and falls, in a cause-effect manner are necessary.