Kinematic and behavioral analyses of protective stepping strategies and risk for falls among community living older adults

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Abstract

Background

Protective stepping evoked by externally applied lateral perturbations reveals balance deficits underlying falls. However, a lack of comprehensive information about the control of different stepping strategies in relation to the magnitude of perturbation limits understanding of balance control in relation to age and fall status. The aim of this study was to investigate different protective stepping strategies and their kinematic and behavioral control characteristics in response to different magnitudes of lateral waist-pulls between older fallers and non-fallers.

Methods

Fifty-two community-dwelling older adults (16 fallers) Reacted naturally to maintain balance in response to five magnitudes of lateral waist-pulls. The balance tolerance limit (BTL, waist-pull magnitude where protective steps transitioned from single to multiple steps), first step control characteristics (stepping frequency and counts, spatial–temporal kinematic, and trunk position at landing) of four naturally selected protective step types were compared between fallers and non-fallers at- and above-BTL.

Findings

Fallers took medial-steps most frequently while non-fallers most often took crossover-back-steps. Only non-fallers varied their step count and first step control parameters by step type at the instants of step initiation (onset time) and termination (trunk position), while both groups modulated step execution parameters (single stance duration and step length) by step type. Group differences were generally better demonstrated above-BTL.

Interpretation

Fallers primarily used a biomechanically less effective medial-stepping strategy that may be partially explained by reduced somato-sensation. Fallers did not modulate their step parameters by step type at first step initiation and termination, instances particularly vulnerable to instability, reflecting their limitations in balance control during protective stepping.

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