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Jasmine Menant

Visuospatial tasks affect gait stability more than non-visuospatial tasks in older people

Jasmine Menant (Neuroscience Research Australia and University of New South Wales, Sydney )

Visuospatial tasks affect gait stability more than non-visuospatial tasks in older people

Background : Previous research has shown that visuospatial (VS) processing requiring working memory is particularly important in balance control, yet VS involvement during locomotion has not been determined. This study examined the effects of a VS cognitive task versus a non-VS (NVS) arithmetic task on gait stability and variability in older people, while controlling for task difficulty. Methods : Thirty-six people aged 75 years + performed three walking trials along a 20 m walkway for the following dual-task conditions : (i) easy NVS task ; (ii) difficult NVS task ; (iii) easy VS task ; (iv) difficult VS task. Gait parameters were computed from a tri-axial accelerometer attached to the sacrum. The proportion of correct answers during walking trials and three 30s seated trials was computed for each cognitive task. Results : When seated, participants performed similarly in the NVS and VS tasks at each level of difficulty. Compared with the NVS tasks, the VS tasks led to an increase in step time variability and reductions in gait speed, step length and anterior-posterior and medio-lateral harmonic ratios. Conclusions : Compared with NVS arithmetic tasks, VS cognitive tasks led to a slower, more variable and less stable gait pattern. These findings suggest that gait changes during dual-task paradigms are not simply due to competition for limited central resources and that VS processing is particularly important for gait stability.