The aim was to evaluate whether gait pattern changes between single- and dual-task conditions were associated with risk of falling in older people. Dual-task cost (DTC) of 230 community living, physically independent people, 75 years or older, was determined with an electronic walkway. Participants were followed up each month for 1 year to record falls. Mean and variability measures of gait characteristics for 5 dual-task conditions were compared to single-task walking for each participant. Almost half (48%) of the participants fell at least once during follow-up. Risk of falling increased in individuals where DTC for performing a subtraction task demonstrated change in mean step-width compared to single-task walking. Risk of falling decreased in individuals where DTC for carrying a cup and saucer demonstrated change compared to single-task walking in mean step-width, mean step-time, and step-length variability. Degree of change in gait characteristics related to a change in risk of falling differed between measures. Prognostic guidance for fall risk was found for the above DTCs in mean step-width with a negative likelihood ratio of 0.5 and a positive likelihood ratio of 2.3, respectively.
Findings suggest that changes in step-width, step-time, and step-length with dual tasking may be related to future risk of falling. Depending on the nature of the second task, DTC may indicate either an increased risk of falling, or a protective strategy to avoid falling.