Understanding age-related decline in gait stability and the role of alterations in brain structure is crucial. Here, we studied the relationship between white matter microstructural organization using Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) and advanced gait stability measures in 15 healthy young adults (range 18-30 years) and 25 healthy older adults (range 62-82 years). Among the different gait stability measures, only stride time and the maximum Lyapunov exponent (which quantifies how well participants are able to attenuate small perturbations) were found to decline with age. White matter microstructural organization (FA) was lower throughout the brain in older adults. We found a strong correlation between FA in the left anterior thalamic radiation and left corticospinal tract on the one hand, and step width and safety margin (indicative of how close participants are to falling over) on the other. These findings suggest that white matter FA in tracts connecting subcortical and prefrontal areas is associated with the implementation of an effective stabilization strategy during gait.
Keywords: DTI; ageing; extrapolated center of mass; gait stability; maximum Lyapunov exponent; step width; white matter integrity.