Human walking is highly adaptable, which allows us to walk under different circumstances. With aging, the probability of falling increases, which may partially be due to a decreased ability of older adults to adapt the gait pattern to the needs of the environment. The literature on visuomotor adaptations during reaching suggests, however, that older adults have little problems in adapting their motor behavior. Nevertheless, it may be that adaptation during a more complex task like gait is compromised by aging. In this study, we investigated the ability of young (n = 8) and older (n = 12) adults to adapt their gait pattern to novel constraints with a split-belt paradigm. Findings revealed that older adults adapted less and more slowly to split-belt walking and showed fewer aftereffects than young adults. While young adults showed a fast adjustment of the relative time spent in swing for each leg older adults failed to do so, but instead they were very fast in manipulating swing speed differences between the two legs. We suggest that these changes in adaptability of gait due to aging stem from a mild degradation of cortico-cerebellar pathways (reduced adaptability) and cerebral structures (decreased ability to change gait cycle timing). However, an alternative interpretation may be that the observed reduced adaptation is a compensatory strategy in view of the instability induced by the split-belt paradigm.
- Adaptation, Physiological
- Young Adult
- Comparative Study
- Journal Article
- Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't