Gait symmetry in the dual task condition as a predictor of future falls among independent older adults: a 2-year longitudinal study

Abstract

Background

Given the potential consequences of falls among older adults, a major challenge is to identify people at risk before the first event. In this context, gait parameters have been suggested as markers of fall risk.

Aim

To examine, among older people, the prospective relationship between gait patterns assessed in comfortable and challenging walking conditions, and future fall(s).

Method

A total of 105 adults older than 65 years, living independently at home and without a recent fall history were included in a 2-year, longitudinal, observational study. All underwent physical and functional assessment. Gait speed, stride length, frequency, symmetry and regularity and Minimum Toe Clearance (MTC) were recorded in comfortable (CW), fast (FW) and dual task walking (DTW) conditions. Gait parameter changes occurring between CW and FW and between CW and DTW were calculated and expressed in percent. DTW cost was calculated as the change of DTW relative to CW. Fall events were recorded using fall diaries. Comparisons according to fall occurrence were performed by means of univariate analysis and multivariate binary logistic regression analysis.

Results

Two-year follow-up was available for 96 participants, of whom 35 (36.5%) fell at least once. Comparative analysis showed that future fallers had shorter FW stride length and higher symmetry DTW cost than non-fallers (p < 0.05). Binary logistic regression analysis showed that each additional percent of stride symmetry cost was associated with an increase in future fall risk (odds ratio 1.018, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) 1.002–1.033; p = 0.027).

Discussion

Our results confirm the association between a symmetry decrease in DTW and future fall(s). Indeed in this study, the mean symmetry DTW cost in fallers is almost 20% higher than in non-fallers, meaning a fall risk that is around 36% higher than among non-fallers.

Conclusion

This exploratory study shows the usefulness of considering gait parameters, particularly symmetry in challenging walking conditions, for early identification of future fallers.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Mrs. Sophie Christelbach (MD) and Mrs. Celine Ricour (PhD) for their help for the recruitment, Mrs. Vinciane Wojtasik for the follow-up and Mrs. Fiona Ecarnot (EA3920, University Hospital Besancon, France) for her editorial support.

Funding

This study was supported by a grant from the Belgian fund for scientific research (F.N.R.S.).

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Correspondence to Sophie Gillain.

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Gillain, S., Boutaayamou, M., Schwartz, C. et al. Gait symmetry in the dual task condition as a predictor of future falls among independent older adults: a 2-year longitudinal study. Aging Clin Exp Res 31, 1057–1067 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40520-019-01210-w

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Keywords

  • Gait symmetry
  • Dual task
  • Fall risk
  • Older people
  • Prospective study