Walking Speed is Associated with Cognitive Function after Head Injury

Maclean, L., Gardani, M. , Laurie, M., Wainman-Lefley, J. and McMillan, T. (2016) Walking Speed is Associated with Cognitive Function after Head Injury. The International Brain Injury Association’s Eleventh World Congress on Brain Injury, The Hague, The Netherlands, 02-05 Mar 2016.

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Objectives: Gait speed is associated with improved survival in older adults. Gait speed is also a predictor of functional outcome following head injury (HI). People with HI walk more slowly than matched healthy controls and performing a cognitive task while walking has a further negative effect on the gait velocity of people with HI. The co-ordination of the allocation of specialized resources to concurrent tasks in the healthy brain is a higher level (executive) function (EF) that is impaired in people with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). During a gait and cognitive dual task (DT), walking speed was slower in AD patients than in controls. HI is also a risk factor for AD. This preliminary study investigated the association between dual task gait speed and current cognitive function late after severe HI. Methods: Fifty-six participants with severe head injury, aged 17–93 (mean = 50 years) performed (i) a single task (ST) walking over a flat 6-metre surface, (ii) counting (Serial 3s, counting backwards, subtracting 3s) and (iii) a dual walking and counting task. Outcomes were walking speed (metres per second) and correct cognitive responses per second when walking. All participants were living in the community. Pre-DT cognitive tests were the Mini mental-state examination, the Symbol Digit Modalities Test and memory tasks from the Wechsler Memory Scale. Results: DT walking speed was slower than ST walking speed (Wilcoxon signed ranks test; Z = –6.43, p < 0.001). Slower DT walking speed was associated with poorer executive functioning (rho = –0.276, p < 0.05) and with poorer immediate recall (rho = –0.366, p < 0.05) and delayed recall (rho = –0.361, p < 0.05) at baseline. There was no significant difference in correct cognitive responses per second between the ST and DT conditions (Wilcoxon signed ranks test, Z = –0.685; p > 0.05). Conclusions: DT walking speed, even many years after a severe head injury, is associated with memory and executive function. DT walking speed is associated with poorer cognitive function in adults with severe HI. The potential of walking speed as an indicator of late cognitive decline after severe HI is discussed.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Gardani, Dr Maria and Maclean, Dr Linda and McMillan, Professor Tom and Wainman-Lefley, Ms Jessica
Authors: Maclean, L., Gardani, M., Laurie, M., Wainman-Lefley, J., and McMillan, T.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > Mental Health and Wellbeing
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience

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