Purpose: This study assessed concurrent validity of the Maximum Step Length (MSL) test as a measure of falls risk and balance-impairment for community-dwelling older adults. A secondary purpose was to determine intra- and interrater reliability and standard error of measurement of the MSL test.
Methods: Thirty-five community-dwelling adults aged 60 or older provided a 12-month falls history. Functional measures included the MSL test, Single Limb Stance Time, Functional Reach test, Timed Up and Go test, and a test of trunk position sense. Pearson correlation coefficient, intraclass correlation coefficient (a coefficient of relative reliability), and standard error of measurement (a measure of absolute reliability) were calculated as indices of concurrent validity and reliability of the MSL test. Minimal detectable change was also calculated; this represents actual change beyond that of measurement error or random variation in stepping performance.
Results: Correlations between MSL score and clinical balance measures and self-reported number of falls in the past 12 months ranged from fair to good. Same-day and 1-month intrarater test-retest reliability of the MSL test was excellent. Same-day interrater reliability between 2 raters was also excellent. Measurement error of the MSL test was low. Minimal detectable change for the MSL test at the 95% confidence level was 7.32 inches.
Conclusion: The MSL test appears to be a valid and reliable measure of balance-impairment and falls risk in older adults. Clinicians should consider incorporating the MSL test into their battery of falls risk assessment tools. Use of this test as a screening measure may reduce the incidence of falls in community-dwelling older adults. Real change in performance requires a difference of more than 7.32 inches between trials; differences less than this should be interpreted as being due to measurement error or random variation in stepping performance