Age differences in anticipatory and executory mechanisms of gait initiation following unexpected balance perturbations
Valle, Maria Stella
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Purpose. An age-related decline in anticipatory postural mechanisms has been reported during gait initiation; however, it is unclear whether such decline may jeopardize whole-body stability following unexpected balance perturbations. This study aimed to compare young and older individuals’ ability to generate postural responses and preserve stability in response to external waist perturbations delivered within gait initiation. Methods. Ten young and ten older participants performed 10 gait initiation trials followed by 48 unperturbed and 12 perturbed trials in a random order. A stereophotogrammetric system and three force platforms were used to quantify mechanical parameters from the preparatory phase (e.g., timing and amplitude of postural adjustments) and from the stepping phase (e.g., step characteristics and dynamic stability). Activation patterns of lower leg muscles were determined by surface electromyography. Results. Older participants responded to perturbation with lower increase in both magnitude (p<0.001; η 2 p=0.62) and duration of (p=0.001; η 2 p=0.39) preparatory parameters and soleus muscle activity (p<0.001; η 2 p=0.55), causing shorter (p<0.001; η 2 p=0.59) and lower (p<0.001; η 2 p=0.43) stepping, compared to young participants. Interestingly, young participants showed greater correlations between preparatory phase parameters and dynamic stability of the first step than older participants (average r of -0.40 and -0.06, respectively). Conclusion. The results suggest that young participants took more time than older to adjust the anticipatory biomechanical response to perturbation attempting to preserve balance during stepping. In contrast, older adults were unable to modify their anticipatory adjustments in response to perturbation and mainly relied on compensatory mechanisms attempting to preserve stability via a more cautious stepping strategy.
European Journal of Applied Physiology;
Article accepted for publication in European Journal of Applied Physiology
Cardiff Metropolitan University (Grant ID: Cardiff Metropolian (Internal))
- Sport Research Groups 
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