Objective: To determine whether the cognitive function contribution to straight- and curved-path walking differs for older adults.
Design: Cross-sectional observational study.
Setting: Ambulatory clinical research training center.
Participants: People (N=106) aged 65 to 92 years, able to walk household distances independently with or without an assistive device, and who scored 24 or greater on the Mini-Mental State Examination.
Interventions: Not applicable.
Main outcome measures: Cognitive function was assessed using the Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST) as a measure of psychomotor speed, and Trail Making Test Parts A and B (TMT-A and TMT-B) and the Trail Making Test difference score (TMT-B-A) as executive function measures of complex visual scanning and set shifting. Gait speed recorded over an instrumented walkway was used as the measure of straight-path walking. Curved-path walking was assessed using the Figure-of-8 Walk Test (F8W) and recorded as the total time and number of steps for completion.
Results: Both DSST and TMT-A independently contributed to usual gait speed (P<.001). TMT-A performance contributed to F8W time (P<.001). Neither TMT-B nor TMT-B-A contributed to usual gait speed or time to complete the F8W. For the number of steps taken to complete the F8W, TMT-A, TMT-B, and TMT-B-A (all P<.001) were independent contributors, while DSST performance was not.
Conclusions: Curved-path walking, as measured by the F8W, involves different cognitive processes compared with straight-path walking. Cognitive flexibility and set-shifting processes uniquely contributed to how individuals navigated curved paths. The measure of curved-path walking provides different and meaningful information about daily life walking ability than usual gait speed alone.
Copyright © 2012 American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.