Use of Backward Walking Speed to Screen Dynamic Balance and Mobility Deficits in Older Adults Living Independently in the Community

Document Type


Publication Date



Background and Purpose: Older adults who live independently in the community are higher functioning and routinely ambulate in the community. Unrestricted community ambulation increases the likelihood of encountering precarious situations challenging balance. Sufficient dynamic balance is necessary to avoid falls. Currently used balance and mobility assessments may not sufficiently challenge dynamic balance to uncover mobility deficits in independent community-dwelling older adults. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether backward walking speed (BWS) can serve as an outcome measure to screen dynamic balance and mobility deficits in independent community-dwelling older adults. Methods: A convenience sample of 30 older adults (73.68 ± 6.54 years) participated in this cross-sectional study. Participants walked backward on an instrumented walkway to record BWS. Other outcomes included forward walking speed (FWS), Community Balance and Mobility (CB&M) Scale, Falls Efficacy Scale-International (FES-I), Timed Up and Go (TUG) test, and 7-day average step count (ASC). A multivariate analysis of variance investigated the overall group differences between older adults at fall risk and those not at risk and was followed up by univariate tests. Pearson and spearman coefficients investigated associations between study outcomes. Youden's index assessed diagnostic accuracy. Results and Discussion: Backward walking speed, CB&M, FES-I, ASC discriminated older adults at fall risk from those not at risk (P <.01) whereas FWS and TUG did not. Backward walking speed strongly correlated with challenging assessments of balance and mobility (CB&M, FES-I, and ASC) but only moderately correlated with the TUG. The CB&M Scale independently explained 53% variance in the BWS performance (P <.01). Youden's index was highest (Y = 0.6, sensitivity = 93%, and specificity = 67%) for BWS (0.73 m/s) compared with other study outcomes. Conclusions: Preliminary results suggest that BWS can screen for dynamic balance and mobility deficits in independent community-dwelling older adults. Accurate screening is the first step to capture early decline in function for independent community-dwelling older adults. Longitudinal follow-up studies are warranted to validate BWS as a screening tool.

Publication Title

Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy





First Page


Last Page


Digital Object Identifier (DOI)