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22-05-2019 | Original Article | Uitgave 7/2020 Open Access

Psychological Research 7/2020

Exploring attentional focus of older adult fallers during heightened postural threat

Psychological Research > Uitgave 7/2020
Toby J. Ellmers, Adam J. Cocks, William R. Young
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00426-019-01190-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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Threats to balance, and subsequent increases in fall-related anxiety, can disrupt attentional processing during gait in older adults, leading to behavioral adaptations which may increase fall risk. However, limited research has investigated what changes in attention occur to contribute to these disruptions. The aim of this research was to describe changes in attention that occur during gait when older adults’ balance is threatened, while exploring how previous fall history and trait movement reinvestment (conscious monitoring and control of movement) also influence attention.


Forty older adults reported where they focus their attention when walking during two scenarios: (1) when they are relaxed and there is little risk of falling, and; (2) when their balance is threatened and they are anxious of falling.


During the high-threat condition, participants reported greater attention towards movement processes, threats to balance, worries/disturbing thoughts and self-regulatory strategies, with less attention directed towards task-irrelevant thoughts. However, fall history influenced attentional focus, with fallers directing greater attention towards worries/disturbing thoughts. Contrary to predictions, trait movement reinvestment was not associated with attention directed towards movement processes.


As processing worries/disturbing thoughts will likely reduce attentional resources available for effective postural control, we highlight this as one potential area to target interventions aimed at reducing the likelihood of repeated falling.

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