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Older adults employ alternative strategies to operate within their maximum capabilities when ascending stairs

Reeves, Neil D. and Spanjaard, Marcel and Mohagheghi, Amir A. and Baltzopoulos, Vasilios and Maganaris, Constantinos N. (2007) Older adults employ alternative strategies to operate within their maximum capabilities when ascending stairs. ISSN 1050-6411

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Abstract

Older people may operate much closer to their maximum capabilities than young adults when ascending stairs due to their lower maximum musculoskeletal capabilities. The purpose of this study was to establish the joint moment and range of motion demands of stair ascent relative to maximum capabilities in elderly and young adults. Fifteen elderly (mean age 75 years) and 17 young adult (mean age 25 years) participants ascended a purpose-built 4-step staircase with force platforms embedded into the steps and kinematic data was acquired using motion capture. Maximum musculoskeletal capabilities were assessed using a dynamometer. This study showed for the first time that stair ascent approaches the joint moment limits at the ankle in both young and older participants ( approximately 90%). One of the most important and novel findings of this study was that elderly people were only capable of meeting the high demands by adopting a number of alternative strategies not observed in young adults: (i) applying the joint moments differently than young adults across the knee and ankle, (ii) translocating energy from the knee to the ankle, thereby enhancing the ankle joint moment upon maximum demand and (iii) by enabling the plantarflexors to act over a more favourable portion of the moment-angle relation upon maximum ankle joint moment demand. The elderly displayed a more cautious strategy to optimize positional stability during stair ascent, by maintaining a smaller separation between the centre of mass and centre of pressure in the frontal plane. It seems that elderly people may meet the demands of unaided stair ascent by adopting a number of alternative strategies to compensate for their reduced musculoskeletal capabilities.

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