Contribution of vision and its age-related changes to postural stability in obstacle crossing during locomotion

Gait Posture. 2019 May;70:284-288. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2019.03.012. Epub 2019 Mar 15.


Background: Obstacle crossing requires sufficient toe clearance for trip and fall prevention for which postural stability is a prerequisite. It is thought that the upper visual field plays an important role in the maintenance of postural stability, but its influence and age-dependence have not been investigated yet.

Research question: What is the role of the visual fields in maintaining postural stability during crossing an obstacle in young and older adults?.

Methods: This study included 14 young adults and 14 older adults. The participants, wearing an accelerometer and liquid crystal shutter goggles, were asked to cross an obstacle under the following three conditions (i) full vision; (ii) total visual field occlusion at two steps before the obstacle, and (iii) lower visual field occlusion at two steps before the obstacle. The root mean square ratio in the mediolateral direction (RMSRML) for the three sections (i.e., approach to the obstacle, lead limb crossing, and trail limb crossing), as well as the root mean square in the mediolateral direction (RMSML) for each section were calculated.

Results: RMSML during lead limb crossing was significantly increased in older adults compared to young adults (p < 0.01). There was no significant main effect of visual condition and age group on RMSRML for the three steps.

Significance: The study results suggest postural lateral instability in older adults with poor balance ability during lead limb crossing. Regardless of age, the peripheral visual information appears to contribute minimally to the maintenance of postural lateral stability at least from two steps before the obstacle, when the participants perceived the surrounding environment and the size of the obstacle while approaching it.

Keywords: Gait; Obstacle crossing; Older adults; Postural stability; Vision; Visual field.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Female
  • Gait / physiology
  • Humans
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Male
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Visual Fields / physiology*
  • Young Adult