The authors elucidated functional limitations in older adult gait by increasing horizontal impeding forces and walking speed to their maximums compared with dynamometry and with data from their young counterparts. Specifically, the authors investigated which determinants of push-off intensity represent genuine functionally limiting impairments in older adult gait versus biomechanical changes that do not directly limit walking performance. They found that older adults walked at their preferred speed with hallmark deficits in push-off intensity. These subjects were fully capable of overcoming deficits in propulsive ground reaction force, trailing limb positive work, trailing leg and hip extension, and ankle power generation when the propulsive demands of walking were increased to maximum. Of the outcomes tested, age-related deficits in ankle moment emerged as the lone genuine functionally limiting impairment in older adults. Distinguishing genuine functional limitations from age-related differences masquerading as limitations represents a critical step toward the development and prescription of effective interventions.
The authors are with the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.