Background: It is well established that facing a cognitive challenge while carrying out a motor task interferes with the motor task performance, and in general the ability of handling a dual-task declines progressively with aging. However, the reasons for this decline have not been fully elucidated. Understanding the association between usual-walking gait patterns and dual-task walking performance may provide new insights into the mechanisms that lead to gait deterioration in normal aging and its link to motor and cognitive function.
Research question: Our aim was to assess usual gait parameters in kinematics and kinetics to understand how these parameters are related with a specific task in dual-task walking.
Methods: We hypothesized that difficulty in dual-task walking would be associated with gait deteriorations as reflected in range of motion and mechanical work expenditure. We tested this hypothesis by quantifying the gait of 383 participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (68% of whom successfully completed the dual-task walk, 21% failed the motor task, and 11% failed the cognitive task).
Results: Compared to successful performers, participants who failed the single motor task had slower gait speed, shorter stride length, higher cadence, and lower range of motion in the knee and ankle joints (p < 0.05, for all), while the participants who failed the cognitive task while walking had longer double support time (p = 0.003), and greater knee absorptive mechanical work (p = 0. 001) and lower ankle generative mechanical work (p < 0. 001).
Significance: These results suggest that dual-task walking may be useful for monitoring subtle and diverse gait deteriorations in aging and possibly for designing interventions for maintaining and regaining proper gait patterns in older adults.
Keywords: Cognitive task in walking; Dual-task walking; Gait deterioration in aging; Narrow walking.
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