Do older adults select appropriate motor strategies in a stepping-down paradigm?

Nick Kluft, Sjoerd M. Bruijn, Jaap H. Van Dieën, Mirjam Pijnappels*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Selecting motor strategies in daily life tasks requires a perception of the task requirements as well as of one's own physical abilities. Age-related cognitive and physical changes may affect these perceptions. This might entail that some older adults select inappropriate movement strategies when confronted with daily-life motor tasks, which could lead to balance loss or falls. We investigated whether older adults select motor strategies in accordance with their actual physical ability. Twenty-one older adults were subjected to a stepping down paradigm, in which full-body kinematics of selected and reactive behavior were recorded. Stepping down from a curb can be done with either (1) a relatively low effort but more balance threatening heel landing, or (2) a more controlled but more demanding toe landing. The probability of selecting a toe landing grows with an increase in curb height. We determined the curb height at which participants switched from heel to toe landing during expected stepping down over different heights as an indicator of their perceived ability. During an unexpected step down trial, participants encountered a step down of 0.1 m earlier than expected, because part of the walkway was removed and covered by a black cloth. We evaluated participants' actual physical ability from the reactive behavior, with performance defined as the reduction in kinetic energy between the peak value after landing and the onset of the next step. To unravel whether the selected motor strategies corresponded with actual physical ability, the ability to recover from the unexpected step down was correlated to the height at which the participants switched movement strategy. The switching height was not correlated to the ability to recover from an unexpected step down (ρ = 0.034, p = 0.877). This finding suggests that older adults do not select their movement strategy in stepping down based on their actual abilities, or have an imprecise perception of their actual abilities. Future research should evaluate whether inappropriate motor strategy selection in a stepping down paradigm can explain accidental falls in older adults.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1419
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Issue numberOctober
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2018


  • Decision making
  • Degree of misjudgment
  • Falls
  • Locomotion
  • Old age
  • Perturbation
  • Self-perception
  • Step descent


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