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Gait Posture. 2014;39(1):641-4. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2013.07.125. Epub 2013 Aug 6.

Response inhibition during avoidance of virtual obstacles while walking.

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Department of Kinesiology, KU Leuven, Belgium.


While walking, one often has to suppress and adjust a planned step in order to avoid a fall. Given that steps are preprogrammed this requires some form of motor inhibition. Motor inhibition is commonly tested in hand function and only recently attempts have been made to evaluate inhibition in the lower limbs, during step initiation. As adequate motor inhibition might play a role in avoiding falls a test to assess response inhibition during walking would be valuable. We developed a task in which subjects walked on a treadmill by stepping on projected patches of light, which could suddenly change color forcing the subjects to avoid it by shortening or lengthening their steps. The difficulty level was manipulated in 4 conditions by changing the distance available to respond. We hypothesized that larger demands on motor inhibition during walking would produce more failures and tested the performance of young adults (n=12) in order to establish the protocol for use in older adults. The failure rate on the walking test was analyzed. Reducing the available response distance by 150 mm from the easiest condition resulted in a significant increase in failure rates from 15.6% to 65.1%. Therefore, results indicate this novel test can be used to assess the level of motor inhibition during walking. Additionally, in comparison to previous literature on obstacle avoidance, our experiment shows that changing a precise aiming movement is considerably more challenging than changing the same movement executed automatically.


Accidental falls; Gait; Obstacle avoidance; Precision stepping; Response inhibition

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