The "posture second" strategy: A review of wrong priorities in Parkinson's disease
Falls are common in Parkinson's disease. It remains difficult to predict these falls, presumably because clinical balance tests assess single components of postural control, whereas everyday fall mechanisms are typically more complicated. A substantial proportion of everyday falls appears to occur while Parkinson patients attempt to perform multiple tasks at the same time. Furthermore, little attention is generally paid to the possible contribution of cognitive impairments to falls. The importance of mental dysfunction is supported by the fact that cognitive loading while walking or balancing can lead to marked deteriorations in postural performance, and there is some evidence to suggest that such "dual tasking" is particularly difficult for elderly persons with dementia or depression. We examined what strategies Parkinson patients used when a basic walking task became increasingly challenging by adding additional tasks (both motor and cognitive). Most patients could perform a simple "dual task" test: simultaneously walking and answering simple questions. However, as the walking task became more complex, patients' performance began to deteriorate. Interestingly, this was reflected not only by failure to answer questions, but also by an increasing number of blocks in motor performance (walking and balancing). This behaviour was different from that of both young and elderly controls, who appeared to sacrifice performance on the cognitive task in order to optimise their gait and balance ("posture first" strategy). Preliminary evidence suggest that impaired multiple task performance is associated with a two-fold increased risk of sustaining falls in daily life. We conclude that Parkinson patients are less inclined than healthy persons to maintain a safe gait. Instead, Parkinson patients use a "posture second" strategy and treat all elements of a complex task with equal priority, which in daily life may go at the expense of maintaining balance and lead to falls.
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