Walking to the beat of different drums: Practical implications for the use of acoustic rhythms in gait rehabilitation
MetadataShow full item record
Acoustic rhythms are frequently used in gait rehabilitation, with positive instantaneous and prolonged transfer effects on various gait characteristics. The gait modifying ability of acoustic rhythms depends on how well gait is tied to the beat, which can be assessed with measures of relative timing of auditory-motor coordination. We examined auditory-motor coordination in 20 healthy elderly individuals walking to metronome beats with pacing frequencies slower than, equal to, and faster than their preferred cadence. We found that more steps were required to adjust gait to the beat, the more the metronome rate deviated from the preferred cadence. Furthermore, participants anticipated the beat with their footfalls to various degrees, depending on the metronome rate; the faster the tempo, the smaller the phase advance or phase lead. Finally, the variability in the relative timing between footfalls and the beat was smaller for metronome rates closer to the preferred cadence, reflecting superior auditory-motor coordination. These observations have three practical implications. First, instantaneous effects of acoustic stimuli on gait characteristics may typically be underestimated given the considerable number of steps required to attune gait to the beat in combination with the usual short walkways. Second, a systematic phase lead of footfalls to the beat does not necessarily reflect a reduced ability to couple gait to the metronome. Third, the efficacy of acoustic rhythms to modify gait depends on metronome rate. Gait is coupled best to the beat for metronome rates near the preferred cadence.