Background: impaired stepping and reduced cognitive functioning have both been identified as fall-risk factors in older people. We developed a Stroop Stepping Test (SST) that combines stepping and response inhibition using low-cost computer game technology to provide a functional measure that reflects real-life behaviour and determined whether this test discriminates between older fallers and non-fallers.
Methods: a cross-sectional study, including 103-independent living cognitively intact older people (70-93 years), was conducted. Participants were assessed on the SST and other outcome measures associated with fall-risk. The SST presented arrows on a computer screen with words written within them. Participants were asked to step in the direction indicated by the word and ignore the arrow orientation. Participants also reported whether they had fallen or not in the past 12 months.
Results: twenty-eight percent of participants reported falling in the past year. SST mean time per trial [OR: 1.72 (95% confidence interval 1.02-2.91) and SST errors (OR: 1.53 (1.14-2.07)] were associated with falls. After adjusting for other fall-risk factors in a multivariate logistic regression analysis, each error made during SST increased the odds of falling by a factor 1.7 [OR: 1.65 (1.17-2.34)].
Conclusions: this study shows the SST-a low-cost video game device-is feasible for older people to undertake. The SST was able to distinguish fallers from non-fallers, providing a novel way to explore cognitive mechanisms for fall-risk in older people.
Keywords: accidental falls; assessment; executive function; inhibition; older people; stepping.