A comparison of walking and motor behaviors in children and adults during structured and unstructured practice
OBJECTIVE: We examined how gait behaviors in children and adults differed during a structured and during a minimally structured, practice walking task when temporal constraints were imposed. METHODS: Fifteen children between the ages of 5-7 and fifteen adults between the ages of 18-30 participated in an overground walking task: structured (i.e., on a defined path to specific paces) and minimally structured (i.e., freely around a room) interspersed with practice walking to the specific paces. At the beginning and end of the study, participants walked at their own pace on a 6-m long gait carpet. During the structured task, subjects walked on the same gait carpet to the beat of three different metronome paces (slow, normal, and fast). The distance and timing of participants’ steps were measured with the mechanized, pressure-sensitive gait carpet. During the minimally structured practice task, subjects walked freely around the room for two minutes to the same three metronome paces (slow, normal, and fast). All subject trials were videotaped and the two-minute minimally structured practice periods were analyzed using a video coding system. RESULTS: Compared to children, adults demonstrated a greater difference from their baseline walking in all gait parameters (i.e., velocity, cadence, step length, step time, swing time, stance time, single limb support time, and double limb support time) at the slow metronome pace (all ps<.01). However, at the slow pace, children had more difficulty keeping pace with the metronome compared to adults both before (p=.001) and after practice (p=.001). Furthermore, the magnitude of children’s errors in meeting the metronome pace was larger than that of adults at the normal (p=.007) and slow (p=.002) paces. During the two-minute minimally structured practice periods, children demonstrated more gait behaviors than adults however, only foot behaviors (i.e., leaping, cross stepping, walking backward, and toe-walking) reached initial significance when walking at the normal compared to the slow pace. Follow up comparisons did not reach significance for any of the gait behaviors for children or adults. CONCLUSION: We found that children and adults modified their gait patterns when given a temporal constraint in order to try to match the constraint. Children were more prone to maintain gait patterns that were similar to their baseline walking than adults and subsequently had more difficulty matching all of the metronome paces. In addition, children demonstrated a larger variety and frequency of gait behaviors than adults when able to structure their own walking during minimally structured practice tasks.
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