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J Geriatr Phys Ther. 2007;30(1):3-7.

Effects of age, task complexity, and exercise on reaction time of women during ambulation tasks.

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  • 1St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute, Spokane, WA 99202, USA.



Reaction time (RT) is defined as the time lapse between the onset of a stimulus and the initiation of a response. The purpose of Study 1 was to compare RTs of young and elderly women during ambulation. The purpose of Study 2 was to investigate the effects of regular exercise on RTs of elderly women during ambulation tasks.


Reaction times were measured using a portable computer, 2 transistor radios, and a radio interface box. The computer generated an auditory signal to which participants reacted by pushing a hand-held switch. Reaction times were compared in Study 1 between 17 healthy elderly women and 13 university students and in Study 2 between 15 exercising and 16 non-exercising elderly women. Testing of each participant occurred during sitting, walking on tile, and walking on foam padded carpet.


The results of Study 1 revealed differences in RT between the 2 groups and between the sitting and the 2 walking conditions, but no interaction between group and task complexity. The results of Study 2 revealed differences among all conditions, but not between groups.


The surprising result of Study 1 was that the elderly were not compromised to a greater extent than the young by increased task complexity. This suggests less age related RT decline during familiar activities. Results of Study 2 showed that level of exercise did not differentiate elderly participants' performance on RT. This may be because the active lifestyle of both groups of participants was more important in maintaining RT than a formal exercise program.

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