Retention and generalizability of balance recovery response adaptations from trip perturbations across the adult life span

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For human locomotion, varying environments require adjustments of the motor system. We asked whether age affects gait balance recovery adaptation, its retention over months, and the transfer of adaptation to an untrained reactive balance task. Healthy adults (26 young, 27 middle-aged, and 25 older; average ages 24, 52, and 72 yr, respectively) completed two tasks. The primary task involved treadmill walking: either unperturbed (control; n = 39) or subject to unexpected trip perturbations (training; n = 39). A single trip perturbation was repeated after a 14-wk retention period. The secondary transfer task, before and after treadmill walking, involved sudden loss of balance in a lean-and-release protocol. For both tasks, the anteroposterior margin of stability (MoS) was calculated at foot touchdown. For the first (i.e., novel) trip, older adults required one more recovery step (P = 0.03) to regain positive MoS compared with younger, but not middle-aged, adults. However, over several trip perturbations, all age groups increased their MoS for the first recovery step to a similar extent (up to 70%) and retained improvements over 14 wk, although a decay over time was found for older adults (P = 0.002; middle-aged showing a tendency for decay: P = 0.076). Thus, although adaptability in reactive gait stability control remains effective across the adult life span, retention of adaptations over time appears diminished with aging. Despite these robust adaptations, the perturbation training group did not show superior improvements in the transfer task compared with age-matched controls (no differences in MoS changes), suggesting that generalizability of acquired fall-resisting skills from gait-perturbation training may be limited.NEW & NOTEWORTHY The human neuromotor system preserves its adaptability across the adult life span. However, although adaptability in reactive gait stability control remains effective as age increases, retention of recovery response adaptations over time appears to be reduced with aging. Furthermore, acquired fall-resisting skills from single-session perturbation training seem task specific, which may limit the generalizability of such training to the variety of real-life falls.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1884-1893
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 01.11.2019

ID: 5035220


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