Dual-task walking on real-world surfaces: adaptive changes in walking speed, step width and step height in young and older adults

Charlotte Hennah*, Michail Doumas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Age-related changes in dual-task walking are well established, but research in this topic is based on evidence from laboratory rather than real-world studies. We investigated how dual-task walking on real-world surfaces affects young and older adults' gait characteristics and cognitive resource allocation.

Sixteen young (aged 19–35, 12 female) and fifteen older adults (aged 70–85, 7 female) with no major neurological or musculoskeletal disorders walked at a self-selected speed on forty-metre outdoor paths that had asphalt or grass surface. They walked with or without a cognitive task (counting backwards). Cognitive task difficulty was individually adjusted at 80 % accuracy. Participants performed the three tasks in Single Task (ST Asphalt, ST Grass, ST Cognitive) and Dual Task context (DT Asphalt-Cognitive, DT Grass-Cognitive).

The two groups showed similar dual task effects in cognition and walking speed, both of which were slower when dual-task walking. Older adults' steps were wider overall but only young adults widened their step width when dual-task walking on grass compared to asphalt. Similarly, young adults' step height increased from single to dual-task walking when on grass, where older adults' did not.

The lack of adaptation of step width and height when dual-task walking may leave older adults vulnerable to tripping or falling in common real-world conditions, such as while walking on grass, gravel, or uneven city sidewalks. Considering this, the built environment should be made more accessible to facilitate older adults' safe walking.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112200
Number of pages7
JournalExperimental Gerontology
Early online date09 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2023


  • Aging
  • Built environment
  • Dual-tasking
  • Gait
  • Walking surfaces


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