Obstacle crossing deficits in older adults: A systematic review Academic Article uri icon


  • This systematic review and critical evaluation of the literature investigates whether advanced age compromises obstacle crossing for unconstrained and time-constrained conditions. Eight electronic databases were searched for articles with terms relating to obstacle crossing during walking in their title, abstract or keywords. 15 articles were reviewed from an initial yield of 727 articles. The methodological quality of each article was critiqued and data extracted by two reviewers. Young and older adults were shown to contact obstacles infrequently when adequate time was available to adapt foot placement in relation to the obstacle. When less time was available to adjust the foot trajectory, older adults contacted obstacles more often than younger people. Older adults adopted a slower, more conservative obstacle crossing strategy. They demonstrated greater hip flexion during the swing phase of gait for the lead and trail limbs as well as greater hip flexion, hip adduction and ankle dorsiflexion during the stance phase for the lead and trail limbs. There was also evidence of reduced internal moments across the hip and ankle during key events in the obstacle crossing gait cycle in older adults. Despite using a more conservative obstacle crossing strategy, older adults are at greater risk of contacting obstacles for time-constrained conditions.

publication date

  • October 2009