The aim of the present study was to investigate whether there are age-related changes in the ability of individuals to use vision to plan (feedforward control) and guide (on-line control) foot placement during locomotion. This aim was achieved by constraining the availability of vision and comparing the effects on the stepping performances of older and young adults during a precision stepping task. We experimentally controlled the availability of visual information such that: (1) vision was only available during each stance phase of the targeting limb, (2) vision was only available during each swing phase of the targeting limb or (3) vision was always available. Our visual manipulations had relatively little effect on younger adults' stepping performance as demonstrated by their missing the target on less than 10% of occasions. However, there were clear visual condition-related differences in older adults' stepping performance. When vision was only available during the stance phase of the targeting limb, older adults demonstrated significantly larger foot placement error and associated task failure rate (23%) than trials in which vision was always available (10%). There was an even greater increase in older adults' foot placement error and task failure rate (42%) during trials in which vision was only available in the swing phase than the other visual conditions. These findings suggest that older adults need vision at particular times during the step cycle, to effectively pre-plan future stepping movements. We discuss the evidence that these age-related changes in performance reflect decline in visual and visuomotor CNS pathways.
- stepping accuracy