The effects of dual-task cognitive interference on gait and turning in Huntington's disease

PLoS One. 2020 Jan 7;15(1):e0226827. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0226827. eCollection 2020.


Huntington's disease (HD) is characterized by motor, cognitive, and psychiatric dysfunction. HD progression causes loss of automaticity, such that previously automatic tasks require greater attentional resources. Dual-task (DT) paradigms and fast-paced gait may stress the locomotor system, revealing deficits not seen under single-task (ST). However, the impact of gait "stress tests" on HD individuals needs further investigation. Therefore, the aims of this study were to investigate whether: 1) fast-paced and dual-task walking uncover deficits in gait and turning not seen under single-task, 2) cognitive and gait outcomes relate to fall incidence, and 3) gait deficits measured with wearable inertial sensors correlate with motor symptom severity in HD as measured by the Unified Huntington's disease Rating Scale-total motor score (UHDRS-TMS). Seventeen HD (55 ± 9.7 years) and 17 age-matched controls (56.5 ± 9.3 years) underwent quantitative gait testing via a 25m, two-minute walk test with APDMTM inertial sensors. Gait was assessed under a 1) ST, self-selected pace, 2) fast-as-possible (FAP) pace, and 3) verbal fluency DT. The UHDRS-TMS and a cognitive test battery were administered, and a retrospective fall history was obtained. During ST, DT, and FAP conditions, HD participants demonstrated slower gait, shorter stride length, and greater lateral step and stride length variability compared to controls (p<0.00001 to 0.034). Significant dual-task costs (DTC) were observed for turns; HD participants took more time (p = 0.013) and steps (p = 0.028) to complete a turn under DT compared to controls. Higher UHDRS-TMS correlated with greater stride length variability, less double-support, and more swing-phase time under all conditions. Decreased processing speed was associated with increased gait variability under ST and FAP conditions. Unexpectedly, participant's self-reported falls did not correlate with any gait or turn parameters. HD participants demonstrated significantly greater DTC for turning, which is less automatic than straight walking, requiring coordination of body segments, anticipatory control, and cortical regulation. Turn complexity likely makes it more susceptible to cognitive interference in HD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / statistics & numerical data*
  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Gait
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / etiology
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / physiopathology*
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / psychology
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / complications
  • Huntington Disease / physiopathology
  • Huntington Disease / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Walk Test