Dual-Task Walking Performance in Older Persons With Hearing Impairment: Implications for Interventions From a Preliminary Observational Study

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Abstract

Objectives:

Adults with “hearing loss” have an increased falls risks. There may be an association between hearing impairment and walking performance under dual-task (DT) and triple-task (TT) conditions. The aim of this study was to identify DT and TT effects on walking speed, step length, and cadence in adults with hearing impairment, previous falls, and physical limitations.

Design:

The observational study included 73 community-dwelling older people seeking audiology services. Data were collected on sociodemographic characteristics, previous falls, fear of falling, physical limitations, and walking performance under three task conditions. Differences between the task conditions (single task [ST], DT, and TT) and the hearing groups were analyzed with a two-way ANOVA with repeated measures. The influence of fall risks and limited physical functioning on walking under ST, DT, and TT conditions was analyzed with ANOVAs, with ST, DT, and TT performance as repeated measurement factor (i.e., walking speed, step length and Cadence × Previous falls, or short physical performance battery <12 × Hearing Groups).

Results:

Walking speed was reduced accompanied by decreased step length and increased cadence in people with more severe hearing loss. Larger negative effects on DT and TT walking were found with increasing hearing loss (speed and cadence decreased with higher DT costs). Highest DT costs were found for the walking-manual conditions. These results were accompanied by small effects of older age and more comorbidities.

Conclusions:

This first screening data of walking performance under different conditions for people with hearing loss warrants the need for development and investigation of training interventions to improve walking abilities. DT training may be beneficial to enhance motor and cognitive flexibility and to reduce fall risks.

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