Special article: gait measures indicate underlying focal gray matter atrophy in the brain of older adults

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2008 Dec;63(12):1380-8. doi: 10.1093/gerona/63.12.1380.


Objective: Our objective was to identify the spatial distribution of focal atrophy within mobility-related brain regions in relationship with quantitative gait characteristics.

Methods: Gray matter volume was obtained from 220 older adults (78.0 years old, 63% women, 77% white) for brain regions of five domains: motor (motor, sensorimotor and supplementary areas, basal ganglia, cerebellum), visuospatial attention (inferior and superior posterior parietal lobules), cognitive processing speed/executive control function (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), memory (hippocampus), and motor imagery (parahippocampus, posterior cingulated cortex) domains. Spatial (step width, step length) and temporal (double support time) gait characteristics were measured using the GaitMat II instrumented walking surface. Multivariable linear regression models were adjusted for demographics, total brain volume, and peripheral (body mass index, ankle-arm index, arthritis, vibratory sensation) and central (markers of diffuse brain structural abnormalities and of brain function) risk factors for gait impairment.

Results: Shorter steps and longer double support times were associated with smaller sensorimotor regions and also with smaller frontoparietal regions within the motor, visuospatial, and cognitive processing speed domains. The associations between wider step and smaller pallidum and inferior parietal lobule were less robust. None of the gait measures were associated with the cerebellum or with regions of the memory or motor imagery domains.

Conclusions: Spatial and temporal characteristics of gait are associated with distinct brain networks in older adults. Addressing focal neuronal losses in these networks may represent an important strategy to prevent mobility disability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atrophy
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Gait*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neurons / pathology

Grant support