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Eur J Neurol. 2009 Jul;16(7):786-95. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-1331.2009.02612.x. Epub 2009 Mar 31.

Stops walking when talking: a predictor of falls in older adults?

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1
Department of Geriatrics & Faculty of Medicine, Angers University Hospital and University of Angers, UNAM, France. olbeauchet@chu-angers.fr

Abstract

The objective of this study was to systematically review all published articles examining the relationship between the occurrence of falls and changes in gait and attention-demanding task performance whilst dual tasking amongst older adults. An English and French Medline and Cochrane library search ranging from 1997 to 2008 indexed under 'accidental falls', 'aged OR aged, 80 and over', 'dual task', 'dual tasking', 'gait', 'walking', 'fall' and 'falling' was performed. Of 121 selected studies, fifteen met the selection criteria and were included in the final analysis. The fall rate ranged from 11.1% to 50.0% in retrospective studies and from 21.3% to 42.3% in prospective ones. Amongst the three retrospective and eight prospective studies, two and six studies, respectively, showed a significant relationship between changes in gait performance under dual task and history of falls. The predictive value for falling was particularly efficient amongst frail older adults compared with healthy subjects. Two prospective studies challenged the usefulness of the dual-task paradigm as a significant predictor compared to single task performance and three studies even reported that gait changes whilst dual tasking did not predict falls. The pooled odds ratio for falling was 5.3 (95% CI, 3.1-9.1) when subjects had changes in gait or attention-demanding task performance whilst dual tasking. Despite conflicting early reports, changes in performance whilst dual tasking were significantly associated with an increased risk for falling amongst older adults and frail older adults in particular. Description of health status, standardization of test methodology, increase of sample size and longer follow-up intervals will certainly improve the predictive value of dual-task-based fall risk assessment tests.

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