Background: Executive function impairment (in particular, mental flexibility) in the elderly, and in patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), is strongly correlated with difficulties in performing complex walking tasks. The aim of this study was to determine if the adaptation of a neuropsychological test (the Trail-Making Test), to evaluate executive functions during walking, can be an early detection tool for cognitive impairment.
Methods: Fifty subjects (15 young, 20 older, presumably healthy, and 15 MCI) were first evaluated for cognitive functions (Mini-Mental State Examination, Frontal Assessment Battery, and Trail-Making Test) and motor functions (10-meter walking test). All subjects then performed a spatial navigation, or a complex walking test (the Walking Trail-Making Test: [WTMT]), and their spatiotemporal walking variables were analyzed using cluster analysis.
Results: Following evaluation of WTMT locomotor performance, cluster analysis revealed three groups that were distinctly different in age and cognitive abiliTIES: a group of young subjects, a group of healthy older subjects, MCI subjects with amnestic impairment, and a group of MCI subjects with executive function impairment. The WTMT enabled early detection, (ie, borderline MCI) of dysexecutive impairment, with 78% sensitivity and 90% specificity.
Conclusion: The WTMT is of interest in that it can help provide early detection of dysexecutive cognitive impairment.
Keywords: detection; mild cognitive impairment; spatial navigation; trail making test; walking.