Purpose: Falling is an important health issue in adults with intellectual disabilities. Their cognitive and motor limitations may result in difficulties with dual tasking (walking and talking), which increases fall risk. Therefore, we assessed the dual task effect on gait in adults with intellectual disabilities, if this dual task effect is predictive for falls, and if this is more predictive than regular walking.
Method: Gait characteristics of 31 adults with intellectual disabilities without Down syndrome were assessed with the GAITRite at comfortable speed and during dual tasking (conversation). Falls were collected over a three-month follow-up period.
Results: During dual tasking, participants walked slower, with a lower cadence, increased stride time, and shorter stride lengths. They spend less time in swing and single support phase than at comfortable speed. Also swing and single support time became more variable. The dual task effect and walking at comfortable speed were not predictive for falls, although medium effect sizes were found.
Conclusions: Dual tasking affects gait in adults with intellectual disabilities. This is an important finding for safe community participation, and must be considered while interacting with adults with intellectual disabilities during daily activities. Possible negative consequences of distractors should be kept in mind. More research is needed to better understand the predictive value of gait for falls. Implications for Rehabilitation Having a conversation while walking affects the gait pattern of adults with intellectual disabilities, possible negative consequences of distractors should be kept in mind. The dual task effect on the width of the gait pattern and stride time variability had the largest effect sizes with future falls, this potential relationship should be kept in mind in clinical practice. The dual task effect on gait is important to consider with regard to safe community participation. Future studies are needed to better understand the predictive value of gait for falls, and for cutoff points to be used in clinical practice.
Keywords: Gait; adults; dual task; falls; intellectual disabilities.