Assistive devices are prescribed for a variety of reasons and have the obvious benefit of enhancing gait performance for some individuals. However, the use of an assistive device may make walking a more complex and cognitively challenging task. The purpose of this study was to use a dualtask voice reaction time (VRT) paradigm to examine the attentional demands of walking with an assistive device in a group of elderly adults.Methods:
Standing and walking VRTs were measured in a sample of 105 elderly adults who ambulated independently with either a rolling walker (RW; mean age = 87.8 ± 5.5 yrs), a straight cane (SC; mean age = 84.1 ± 5.6 yrs), or used no device (ND; mean age = 79.9 ± 4.5 yrs). A 3 (group) by 2 (task condition) ANOVA with repeated measures on the last factor was used to examine between and within group differences in VRTs.Results:
The main effects of group (p = 0.004) and task (P < 0.001) and the interaction of group with task (P = 0.025) were all statistically significant. There were no statistically significant between group differences in standing VRT. Between group differences appeared during the walking task, VRT for the RW group was significantly longer than for the ND group. When examining within group difference, walking VRT was significantly longer than standing VRT for the SC and RW groups.Conclusions:
The results demonstrated that there is an increase in the attentional demands of walking for elderly adults who are experienced assistive device users. The increased attention required to walk with an assistive device may be a factor leading to increased fall risk.