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The Effect of Context and Age on Functional Reach Performance in Healthy Adults Aged 21 to 94 Years

Norris, Beth PT, PhD, OCS; Medley, Ann PT, PhD, CEEAA

Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy: April/June 2011 - Volume 34 - Issue 2 - p 82–87
doi: 10.1519/JPT.0b013e31820aac11
Research Reports

Background: Activities of daily living require an individual to exhibit dynamic standing balance, while reaching beyond arm's length under varying contexts that involve an object to reach toward or grasp. Research shows that object context impacts the kinematics of reaching; however, there has been less research regarding the effect of context on functional reach (FR) ability. The purpose of the present study was to assess FR ability under 3 conditions between 3 age groups: (1) traditional FR, (2) reaching to an object (object present FR), and reaching to grasp an object (FR to grasp).

Methods: Reach distance was measured as 142 apparently healthy participants performed the 3 contexts in random order. A 2-way repeated-measures analysis of variance (age group × reach context) determined the effect of age and context on reach ability.

Results: For all age groups, both object-present contexts resulted in greater reach ability than the traditional FR condition. The task goal, touching or grasping, however, impacted reach ability differently in each age group. For the young and older age groups, there was no difference between reaching to touch an object or to grasp an object. Reach distance was less, however, for the middle-age group when grasping an object compared with touching an object.

Conclusion: These results suggest that the presence of an object enhances dynamic standing balance as indicated by greater reach distances compared with traditional FR when an object is absent. Applications of these findings might extend to balance testing and balance training.

School of Physical Therapy, Texas Woman's University, 8194 Walnut Hill Ln, Dallas, Texas.

Address correspondence to: Beth Norris, PT, PhD, OCS, School of Physical Therapy, Texas Woman's University, 8194 Walnut Hill Ln, Dallas, TX 75231 (

Copyright © 2011 the Section on Geriatrics of the American Physical Therapy Association
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