Task difficulty has no effect on haptic anchoring during tandem walking in young and older adults
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This study assessed the contribution of the anchor system's haptic information to balance control during walking at two levels of difficulty. Seventeen young adults and seventeen older adults performed 20 randomized trials of tandem walking in a straight line, on level ground and on a slightly-raised balance beam, both with and without the use of the anchors. The anchor consists of two flexible cables, whose ends participants hold in each hand, to which weights (125 g) are attached at the opposing ends, and which rest on the ground. As the participants walk, they pull on the cables, dragging the anchors. Spatiotemporal gait variables (step speed and single- and double-support duration) were processed using retro-reflective markers on anatomical sites. An accelerometer positioned in the cervical region registered trunk acceleration. Walking on the balance beam increased single- and double-support duration and reduced step speed in older adults, which suggests that this condition was more difficult than walking on the level ground. The anchors reduced trunk acceleration in the frontal plane, but the level of difficulty of the walking task showed no effect. Thus, varying the difficulty of the task had no influence on the way in which participants used the anchor system while tandem walking. The older adults exhibited more difficulty in walking on the balance beam as compared to the younger adults; however, the effect of the anchor system was similar in both groups.