Effects of age on balance assessment using voluntary and involuntary step tasks
BACKGROUND: Taking a step while standing and modifying a step while walking are two strategies often used to maintain balance when balance disturbances are encountered during activities of daily living. This study investigated whether performance on an involuntary step task, which is assumed to be a surrogate for fall recovery abilities, was comparable to performance on a voluntary step task. METHODS: The performance of a voluntary and an involuntary step task was measured in healthy young adult (mean age 21 years) and healthy elderly adult (mean age 68 years) female subjects. Subjects stepped as fast as possible in the direction of a minimally destabilizing lateral waist pull (voluntary step task), or they responded naturally to a large destabilizing lateral waist pull (involuntary step task). The effects of age, task, and their interaction on the primary outcome variables of step foot liftoff time, landing time, step length, and step height were examined. RESULTS: In the voluntary step task, the older adults, compared to the young, required significantly more time to lift their foot (Young: 307 msec; Elderly: 424 msec). In the involuntary step task, the elderly were as quick as the young in lifting their foot (Young: 322 msec; Elderly: 335 msec). The young lifted their foot at about the same time for the two tasks. The elders, on the other hand, lifted their foot significantly earlier in the involuntary step task, compared to the voluntary step task (Vol: 424 msec; Invol: 335 msec). CONCLUSIONS: A voluntary step task underestimates the ability of healthy elderly adults to respond quickly when large destabilizing balance disturbances are encountered.