A new study has found an association between cognitive function and gait during middle age. The study, conducted by researchers at the Guttmann Brain Health Institute in Barcelona, Spain, was a secondary analysis of data from the Barcelona Brain Health Initiative study. The findings were published in the journal Health Longevity.
Walking is often performed while simultaneously completing other cognitive tasks, such as reading signs, talking or making decisions. Regulation of gait, especially under such dual-task conditions, relies on numerous cognitive functions. In adults aged 65 years or older, even subtle cognitive impairments are associated with unsteadiness and increased dual-task costs. Diminished dual-task gait performance at baseline is also predictive of future cognitive decline. However, little is known regarding the role of cognitive function in the control of gait during middle age, which is often the life period during which age-related diseases, including most neurodegenerative diseases, first manifest as measurable functional decline.
The researchers conducted a secondary analysis of data from participants in the BBHI study in Barcelona. All participants were aged 40 to 65 years, community-dwelling, and able to walk without assistance. Exclusion criteria were an inability to understand the study protocol, any overt, clinically diagnosed neurological or psychiatric disorder, cognitive impairment, and lower-extremity pain, osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis that could cause abnormal gait. Participants completed detailed clinical phenotyping, including gait and cognitive assessments.
The study found that, among the participants, those with better cognitive function had better gait performance, including a lower dual-task cost to stride time variability. The researchers also found that the cognitive domains of processing speed and working memory were associated with the lower dual-task cost to stride time variability. There was a negative correlation between age and the dual-task cost to stride time variability. There were no significant associations found between cognitive function and the mean stride time or the dual-task cost to mean stride time.
The researchers suggest that these findings have important implications for understanding the connections between gait, age, and cognitive function during middle age. Early identification of functional decline and subsequent intervention is likely to be crucial for the preservation of functional independence in old age. The study’s primary outcome was the association between age and dual-task cost to stride time variability. The researchers suggest that these findings should be confirmed in future studies with larger samples and that the mechanisms underlying the observed associations should be further explored.
The findings provide evidence of an association between cognitive function and gait during middle age. The findings highlight the importance of understanding the connections between gait, age, and cognitive function during middle age for the preservation of functional independence in old age. The researchers suggest that future studies with larger samples are needed to confirm these findings and explore the mechanisms underlying the observed associations.