The Effects of Dual-Task Cognitive Interference and Environmental Challenges on Balance in Huntington's Disease

Mov Disord Clin Pract. 2019 Jan 16;6(3):202-212. doi: 10.1002/mdc3.12720. eCollection 2019 Mar.


Background: Huntington's disease (HD) is characterized by chorea, balance and gait impairments, and cognitive deficits, which increase fall risk. Dual task (DT) and environmentally challenging paradigms reflect balance related to everyday life. Furthermore, the impact of cognitive deficits on balance dysfunction and falls in HD is unknown.

Objective: To determine the impact of DT interference, sensory feedback, and cognitive performance on balance and falls in HD.

Methods: Seventeen participants with HD (55 ± 9.7 years) and 17 age-matched controls (56.5 ± 9.3 years) underwent quantitative balance testing with APDM inertial sensors. Postural sway was assessed during conditions of manipulated stance, vision, proprioception, and cognitive demand. The DT was a concurrent verbal fluency task. Neuropsychological assessments testing multiple cognitive domains were also administered.

Results: HD participants exhibited significantly greater total sway area, jerk, and variability under single-task (ST) and DT conditions compared to controls (P = 0.0002 - < 0.0001). They also demonstrated greater DT interference with vision removed for total sway area (P = 0.01) and variability (P = 0.02). Significantly worse postural control was observed in HD with vision removed and reduced proprioception (P = 0.001 - 0.01). Decreased visuospatial performance correlated with greater total sway and jerk (P = 0.01; 0.009). No balance parameters correlated with retrospective falls in HD.

Conclusions: HD participants have worse postural control under DT, limited proprioception/vision, and greater DT interference with a narrowed base and no visual input. These findings may have implications for designing motor and cognitive strategies to improve balance in HD.

Keywords: Huntington's disease; cognition, balance; inertial sensors; postural sway.