Prefrontal Cortical Activity During Preferred and Fast Walking in Young and Older Adults: An fNIRS Study


Age-related changes may affect the performance during fast walking speed. Although, several studies have been focused on the contribution of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) during challenging walking tasks, the neural mechanism underling fast walking speed in older people remain poorly understood. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the influence of aging on PFC activity during overground walking at preferred and fast speeds. Twenty-five older adults (67.37 ± 5.31 years) and 24 young adults (22.70 ± 1.30 years) walked overground in two conditions: preferred speed and fast walking speed. Five trials were performed for each condition. A wireless functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) system measured PFC activity. Gait parameters were evaluated using the GAITRite system. Overall, older adults presented higher PFC activity than young adults in both conditions. Speed-related change in PFC activity was observed for older adults, but not for young adults. Older adults significantly increased activity in the left PFC from the preferred to fast walking condition whereas young adults had similar levels of PFC activity across conditions. Our findings suggest that older adults need to recruit additional prefrontal cognitive resources to control walking, indicating a compensatory mechanism. In addition, left PFC seems to be involved in the modulation of gait speed in older adults.