Jul 15, 2012

Gait May be Associated with Specific Cognitive Abilities and Functions

With aging and in people with Alzheimer's disease, various brain functions deteriorate. Most research has focused on cognition. Recent evidence suggests that gait is also affected by aging and Alzheimer's, yet the exact relationship remains unclear.

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Mohammad Ikram, MD, PhD, and colleagues at Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, the Netherlands investigated the relationship between cognition and gait in community-dwelling elderly.

The researchers studied 1,232 individuals age 49 and older from The Rotterdam Study (Note: data included here is updated since the original abstract submission to AAIC 2012). Standardized neuropsychological tests were used to measure information processing speed, memory, fine motor speed, and executive function. Gait was assessed using an electronic walkway.

Specific Aspects of Gait may be Associated with Specific Cognitive Abilities and Functions

Each participant performed a normal walk, a tandem walk (where the heel of your front foot is placed directly touching the toes of your back foot), and a turn. Gait variables were grouped into seven independent factors:

  • Rhythm (reflecting stride time and cadence)
  • Pace (reflecting stride length and velocity)
  • Phases (reflecting the amount of time spent on one or both feet)
  • Variability (reflecting the variation in gait within persons)
  • Base of Support (reflecting step width and stride width)
  • Tandem (the amount of errors in a tandem walk)
  • Turn (the amount of time and steps needed to turn around)

Interesting patterns emerged in the data analysis; the researchers found that certain cognitive domains were only associated with certain aspects of gait.

  • Information processing speed was associated with the Rhythm aspect of gait.
  • Executive function was associated with Pace and Variability.
  • Fine motor speed was associated with Tandem.
  • Memory was not associated with any aspect of gait.

"Our results suggest that cognition and gait are tightly linked according to a specified pattern, in which certain cognitive domains only associate with corresponding aspects of gait," Ikram said.

Mohammad Ikram, et al. Cognition and gait reveal distinct patterns of association in an aging population. (Funders: Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam, Prinses Beatrix Fonds)

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room