Heterogeneity in Association Between Cognitive Function and Gait Speed Among Older Adults: An Integrative Data Analysis Study

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2021 Mar 31;76(4):710-715. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glaa211.


Background: Increasing evidence shows that cognition and gait speed are associated and are important measures of health among older adults. However, previous studies have used different methods to assess these 2 outcomes and lack sufficient sample size to examine heterogeneity among subgroups. This study examined how the relationship between global cognitive function and gait speed are influenced by age, gender, and race utilizing an integrated data analysis approach.

Method: Data on cognition (Montreal Cognitive Assessment [MoCA], Mini-Mental Status Examination [MMSE], and Modified Mini-Mental State Examination [3MSE]) and gait speed (range: 4-400 m) were acquired and harmonized from 25 research studies (n = 2802) of adults aged 50+ from the Wake Forest Older American Independence Center. Multilevel regression models examined the relationship between predicted values of global cognitive function (MoCA) and gait speed (4-m walk), including heterogeneity by age, race, and gender.

Results: Global cognitive function and gait speed exhibited a consistent positive relationship among whites with increasing age, while this was less consistent for African Americans. That is, there was a low correlation between global cognitive function and gait speed among African Americans aged 50-59, a positive correlation in their 60s and 70s, then a negative correlation thereafter.

Conclusion: Global cognition and gait speed exhibited a curvilinear U-shaped relationship among whites; however, the association becomes inverse in African Americans. More research is needed to understand this racial divergence and could aid in identifying interventions to maintain cognitive and gait abilities across subgroups.

Keywords: Cognitive test; Montreal Cognitive Assessment; Short Physical Performance Battery.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging* / ethnology
  • Aging* / physiology
  • Aging* / psychology
  • Black or African American
  • Cognition*
  • Correlation of Data
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Status and Dementia Tests
  • Middle Aged
  • Multilevel Analysis
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sex Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Walking Speed*
  • White People