Contributions of cognitive function to straight- and curved-path walking in older adults

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2012 May;93(5):802-7. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2011.12.007.


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.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gait
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Psychometrics
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Time Factors
  • Walking / physiology*
  • Walking / psychology*