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Two interesting papers from the latest Gait & Posture which assess gait stability in older people:
Moe-Nilssen R, Helbostad J. Interstride trunk acceleration variability but not step width variability can differentiate between fit and frail older adults. Gait & Posture 2005;21:164-170.
Variability of gait may be regarded as a sign of adaptability and thus a requirement for successful locomotion, or as a sign of impaired balance control. In this study we examined the role of step width variability (SWV) and interstride trunk acceleration variability in two groups of fit and frail old people. We investigated the association of these measures and how they differentiated the two groups. We examined 33 fit older adults (mean age 73 years, S.D. 3.3 years) and 32 frail old people (mean age 80 years, S.D. 4.0 years). Subjects performed timed walking at different speeds ranging from very slow to very fast. SWV was measured from footprints. Trunk accelerations were registered by a triaxial accelerometer and interstride trunk acceleration variability assessed by an unbiased autocorrelation procedure. All measures were normalized to a walking speed of 0.9 m/s to avoid the confounding effect of gait speed on speed dependent gait parameters. SWV demonstrated low association with the trunk variability measures, and did not differ between groups. The frail group had lower mediolateral (P=0.015), but higher vertical (P=0.015) and anteroposterior (P<0.02) trunk variability than the fit group. Trunk variability classified 80% of the subjects correctly into their respective group (sensitivity=0.75, specificity=0.85). The findings are compatible with a notion that mediolateral interstride trunk variability represents a different aspect of motor control than variability in the direction of propulsion.
Hermana T, Giladia N, Gurevicha T, Hausdorff JM. Gait instability and fractal dynamics of older adults with a "cautious" gait: why do certain older adults walk fearfully? Gait & Posture 2005;21:178-185.
Many older adults walk with a cautious and impaired gait of unknown origin, however, the relationship between fear of falling and the observed gait changes is not well understood. To better understand the "cautious" gait of the elderly, we tested the hypothesis that temporal gait variability, putatively a marker of intrinsic walking unsteadiness, is increased among older adults with a cautious gait and a higher-level gait disorder (HLGD), an altered gait that cannot be attributed to a well-defined cause. Twenty-five older adults (mean age: 78 years) with a HLGD were compared to healthy controls of similar age and sex (n=28). The clinical characteristics (e.g., neurological status, fear of falling), the magnitude of the stride-to-stride variations in gait cycle timing (a measure of temporal gait variability), and a fractal index of gait (a measure of the stride dynamics independent of the magnitude of the variability) were studied in both groups. Gait variability was significantly increased (P<0.0001) in HLGD subjects (52±26 ms) compared to controls (27±9 ms). Changes in frontal lobe and extra-pyramidal function were also found in the patient group. Among HLGD subjects, gait variability was not associated (P>0.05) with age, gender, MMSE score, muscle strength, # of co-morbidities, balance, cerebellar signs, or pyramidal signs, but was significantly associated with scores on the Geriatric Depression Scale (r=0.46, P<0.02) and fear of falling (r=0.69, P<0.0001). Among HLGD subjects, only a fractal index was significantly different in fallers and non-fallers. These findings underscore the idea that the gait changes in older adults who walk with fear may be an appropriate response to unsteadiness, are likely a marker of underlying pathology, and are not simply a physiological or psychological consequence of normal aging.
Certain aspects of balance control change with age, resulting in a slight postural instability. We examined healthy subjects between 20-82 years of age during the quiet stance under static conditions: at stance on a firm surface and/or on a compliant surface, with eyes either open or closed. Body sway was evaluated from centre of foot pressure (CoP) positions during a 50 sec interval. The seven CoP parameters were evaluated to assess quiet stance and were analyzed in three age groups: juniors, middle-aged and seniors. The regression analysis showed evident increase of body sway over 60 years of age. We found that CoP parameters were significantly different when comparing juniors and seniors in all static conditions. The most sensitive view on postural steadiness during quiet stance was provided by CoP amplitude and velocity in AP direction and root mean square (RMS) of statokinesigram. New physiological ranges of RMS parameter in each condition for each age group of healthy subjects were determined. Our results showed that CoP data from force platform in quiet stance may indicate small balance impairment due to age. The determined physiological ranges of RMS will be useful for better distinguishing between small postural instability due to aging in contrast to pathological processes in the human postural control.