Gait control becomes more demanding in healthy older adults, yet what cognitive or motor process leads to this age-related change is unknown. The present study aimed to investigate whether it might depend on specific decay in the quality of gait motor representation and/or a more general reduction in the efficiency of lower limb motor control. Younger and older healthy participants performed in fMRI a virtual walking paradigm that combines motor imagery (MI) of walking and standing on the spot with the presence (Dynamic Motor Imagery condition, DMI) or absence (pure MI condition) of overtly executed ankle dorsiflexion. Gait imagery was aided by the concomitant observation of moving videos simulating a stroll in the park from a first-person perspective. Behaviorally, older participants showed no sign of evident depletion in the quality of gait motor representations, and absence of between-group differences in the neural correlates of MI. However, while younger participants showed increased frontoparietal activity during DMI, older participants displayed stronger activation of premotor areas when controlling the pure execution of ankle dorsiflexion, regardless of the imagery task. These data suggest that reduced automaticity of lower limb motor control in healthy older subjects leads to the recruitment of additional premotor resources even in the absence of basic gait functional disabilities.
Keywords: fMRI; foot movements; gait motor control; healthy aging; motor imagery; premotor cortex.
© 2020 The Authors. Human Brain Mapping published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.