Neural predictors of cognitively-demanding walking performance in young and older adults

Justin Geraghty

Authors:  Justin Geraghty, Kathleen Hupfeld, Rachael Seidler

Faculty Mentor:  Rachael Seidler

College:  College of Health and Human Performance


Falling is the leading cause of injury-related death among adults aged 65 and older. Aging results in multiple brain changes. While some studies have found associations between age-related gray and white matter declines and poorer gait, the neural mechanisms that underlie individual differences in walking with aging and the increased likelihood of falls for some older adults remain largely unknown. Here we examine how age differences in regional gray matter volumes relate to individual differences in performance on several walking tasks. To date we have analyzed data from 25 young and 18 older adults. To test walking, we are measuring spatiotemporal gait parameters using inertial measurement units during normal overground walking and during walking combined with a cognitively demanding dual task. The gait variables being analyzed include speed, double support time, cadence, and phase coordination index. To analyze gray matter volume, we are collecting T1-weighted MRI scans. We then assess the differences between dual task walking and regular walking as well as correlations between gray matter volumes and the spatiotemporal gait variables. Preliminary results show correlations between atrophy in the left anterior cingulate cortex and the right putamen with poorer gait performance. That is, older participants with less gray matter volume in these regions show poorer walking ability. As the anterior cingulate cortex is involved in performance monitoring, a reduced ability to track one’s behavior may increase fall risk in older adults.

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