Author: Gabriella Small
Dual-tasks combine walking with a cognitive load to determine their influence on gait performance. Performing a challenging cognitive task during steady-state walking can negatively affect frontal plane balance control. Frontal plane balance is partially mediated by foot-placement, with clinical populations often walking with wider step widths. Wider steps lead to an increase in peak-to-peak whole-body angular momentum (H) and subsequently poorer balance control. The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of a cognitive load when walking with a range of step widths.
Young healthy adults walked with and without a cognitive load during normal treadmill walking and with step width targets at their self-selected width, 25% narrower, 50% wider and 100% wider.
Cognitive performance decreased between the self-selected width and the extra wide condition. The cognitive load caused an increase in the range of H between the single- and dual-task at the wide and extra wide conditions. The self-selected width did not have a difference likely because it is a natural walking task. There was a difference in the range of H between the control (no targets) and the self-selected condition, even with no change in step width, because the targets required focus on their walking. However, the wide and extra wide conditions were challenging enough to see a decrease in balance control.
This study showed that balance control during dual-tasks decreases with wider step widths. Given that decreased balance control while walking increases the risk of falling, our results could have implications for clinical populations.