The role of executive function and attention in gait

Mov Disord. 2008 Feb 15;23(3):329-42; quiz 472. doi: 10.1002/mds.21720.


Until recently, gait was generally viewed as a largely automated motor task, requiring minimal higher-level cognitive input. Increasing evidence, however, links alterations in executive function and attention to gait disturbances. This review discusses the role of executive function and attention in healthy walking and gait disorders while summarizing the relevant, recent literature. We describe the variety of gait disorders that may be associated with different aspects of executive function, and discuss the changes occurring in executive function as a result of aging and disease as well the potential impact of these changes on gait. The attentional demands of gait are often tested using dual tasking methodologies. Relevant studies in healthy adults and patients are presented, as are the possible mechanisms responsible for the deterioration of gait during dual tasking. Lastly, we suggest how assessments of executive function and attention could be applied in the clinical setting as part of the process of identifying and understanding gait disorders and fall risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Walking / physiology