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Influence of focus of attention, reinvestment and fall history on elderly gait stability

de Melker Worms, JLA and Stins, JF and van Wegen, EEH and Loram, ID and Beek, PJ (2017) Influence of focus of attention, reinvestment and fall history on elderly gait stability. Physiological reports, 5 (1). ISSN 2051-817X


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Falls represent a substantial risk in the elderly. Previous studies have found that a focus on the outcome or effect of the movement (external focus of attention) leads to improved balance performance, whereas a focus on the movement execution itself (internal focus of attention) impairs balance performance in elderly. A shift toward more conscious, explicit forms of motor control occurs when existing declarative knowledge is recruited in motor control, a phenomenon called reinvestment. We investigated the effects of attentional focus and reinvestment on gait stability in elderly fallers and nonfallers. Full body kinematics was collected from twenty-eight healthy older adults walking on a treadmill, while focus of attention was manipulated through instruction. Participants also filled out the Movement Specific Reinvestment Scale (MSRS) and the Falls Efficacy Scale International (FES-I), and provided details about their fall history. Coefficients of Variation (CV) of spatiotemporal gait parameters and Local Divergence Exponents (LDE) were calculated as measures of gait variability and gait stability, respectively. Larger stance time CV and LDE (decreased gait stability) were found for fallers compared to nonfallers. No significant effect of attentional focus was found for the gait parameters, and no significant relation between MSRS score (reinvestment) and fall history was found. We conclude that external attention to the walking surface does not lead to improved gait stability in elderly. Potential benefits of an external focus of attention might not apply to gait, because walking movements are not geared toward achieving a distinct environmental effect.

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