Introduction Tripping over an obstacle is one of the most common causes of falls among older adults. However, the effects of aging, obstacle height and anticipation time on negotiation strategies have not been systematically evaluated. Methods Twenty older adults (ages: 77.7 ± 3.4 years; 50% women) and twenty young adults (age: 29.3 ± 3.8 years; 50% women) walked through an obstacle course while negotiating anticipated and unanticipated obstacles at heights of 25 mm and 75 mm. Kinect cameras captured the: (1) distance of the subject's trailing foot before the obstacles, (2) distance of the leading foot after the obstacles, (3) clearance of the leading foot above the obstacles, and (4) clearance of the trailing foot above the obstacles. Linear-mix models assessed changes between groups and conditions. Results Older adults placed their leading foot closer to the obstacle after landing, compared to young adults (p < 0.001). This pattern was enhanced in high obstacles (group*height interaction, p = 0.033). Older adults had lower clearance over the obstacles, compared to young adults (p = 0.007). This was more pronounced during unanticipated obstacles (group*ART interaction, p = 0.003). The distance of the leading foot and clearance of the trailing foot after the obstacles were correlated with motor, cognitive, and functional abilities. Conclusions These findings suggest that there are age-related changes in obstacle crossing strategies that are dependent on the specific characteristics of the obstacle. The results have important implications for clinical practice, suggesting that functional exercise should include obstacle negotiation training with variable practice of height and available response times. Further studies are needed to better understand the effects of motor and cognitive abilities.
- Leading foot
- Obstacle negotiation
- Trailing foot
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine