• The effects of blurring vision on medio-lateral balance during stepping up or down to a new level in the elderly

      Buckley, John G.; Elliott, David B.; Heasley, Karen; Scally, Andy J. (2005)
      Visual impairment is an important risk factor for falls, but relatively little is known about how it affects stair negotiation. The present study determined how medio-lateral (ML) dynamics of stepping and single limb support stability when stepping up or down to a new level were affected by blurring the vision of healthy elderly subjects. Twelve elderly subjects (72.3±4.2years) were analysed performing single steps up and single steps down to a new level (7.2, 14.4 and 21.6cm). Stepping dynamics were assessed by determining the ML ground reaction force (GRF) impulse, lateral position of the centre of mass (CM) relative to the supporting foot (average horizontal ML distance between CM and CP during single support) and movement time. Stability was determined as the rms fluctuation in ML position of the centre of pressure (CP) during single support. Differences between optimal and blurred visual conditions were analysed using a random effects model. Duration of double and single support, and the ML GRF impulse were significantly greater when vision was blurred, while the average CM¿CP ML distance and ML stability was reduced. ML stability decreased with increasing step height and was further decreased when stepping down than when stepping up. These findings indicate that ML balance during stepping up and down was significantly affected by blurring vision. In particular, single limb support stability was considerably reduced, especially so during stepping down. The findings highlight the importance of accurate visual feedback in the precise control of stepping dynamics when stepping up or down to a new level, and suggest that correcting common visual problems, such as uncorrected refractive errors and cataract may be an important intervention strategy in improving how the elderly negotiate stairs.