Prefrontal cortex activation while walking did not change but gait speed improved after a randomized physical therapy intervention


Background: Higher prefrontal cortex (PFC) activation while walking may indicate reduced gait automaticity. Aim: We examine whether PFC activation during walking improves after training in older adults at risk for mobility disability. Methods: Forty-two adults aged ≥ 65 participated in a randomized clinical trial (NCT026637780) of a 12-week timing and coordination physical therapy intervention to improve walking (n = 20 intervention, n = 22 active control). PFC activation was measured by functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) during four walking tasks over 15 m, each repeated 4 times: even surface walking, uneven surface walking, even dual-task, uneven dual-task; dual-task was reciting every other letter of the alphabet while walking. Gait speed and rate of correct letter generation were recorded. Linear mixed models tested between arm differences in change of fNIRS, gait speed, and letter generation from baseline to follow-up (12-week, 24-week, and 36-week). Results: Intervention arms were similar in mean age (74.3 vs. 77.0) and baseline gait speed (0.96 vs. 0.93 m/s). Of 24 comparisons of between arm differences in the fNIRS signals, only two were significant which were not supported by differences at other follow-up times or on other tasks. Gait speed, particularly during dual-task conditions, and correct letter generation did improve post-intervention but improvements did not differ by arm. Discussion and Conclusions: After training, PFC activation during walking generally did not improve and did not differ by intervention arm. Improvements in gait speed without increased PFC activation may point toward more efficient neural control of walking.

Aging Clinical and Experimental Research