Altered perception-action capability is often associated with falls and diminished self-efficacy in older people. This study evaluated and compared perception-action capability in stair-climbing performance of 18 healthy volunteers assigned to two age groups (mean age, 26.3 ± 4.3 years and 66.4 ± 4.7 years, respectively). The experimental set-up included 14 stairs (50 cm wide, 60 cm deep, riser height 35-90 cm) positioned at the edge of a force platform. The task was to climb the stair with the greatest riser height subjects thought they could climb without outside support or use of hands. Dimensional and dynamic data were collected and analyzed to reveal the invariant relationships that sustain action preparation and execution. All subjects chose the same proportion between stair height and distance covered before mounting the stair, as expressed by the invariant angle (α). While the geometric invariant relationship was picked up as a visual guide prior to action, there was a dynamic invariance in the forces applied during actual execution. To establish whether the invariance still held in extreme cases, two perturbed conditions were introduced in which stair distances were changed, forcing subjects to execute a foot-strike, either very far from or near to the stair, before climbing it, so as to reveal any significant adaptations the climber would undertake to avoid slips or falls. Older and younger subjects applied appropriate visual and motor guidance by scaling their motor capabilities to the environmental dimensions. © 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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