Prefrontal cortex involvement during dual-task stair climbing in healthy older adults: An fNIRS study


Executive function and motor control deficits adversely affect gait performance with age, but the neural correlates underlying this interaction during stair climbing remains unclear. Twenty older adults (72.7 ± 6.9 years) completed single tasks: standing and responding to a response time task (SC), ascending or descending stairs (SMup, SMdown); and a dual-task: responding while ascending or descending stairs (DTup, DTdown). Prefrontal hemodynamic response changes (∆HbO2, ∆HbR) were examined using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), gait speed was measured using in-shoe smart insoles, and vocal response time and accuracy were recorded. Findings revealed increased ∆HbO2 (p = 0.020) and slower response times (p < 0.001) during dual-versus single tasks. ∆HbR (p = 0.549), accuracy (p = 0.135) and gait speed (p = 0.475) were not significantly different between tasks or stair climbing conditions. ∆HbO2 and response time findings suggest that executive processes are less efficient during dual-tasks. These findings, in addition to gait speed and accuracy maintenance, may provide insights into the neural changes that precede performance declines. To capture the subtle differences between stair ascent and descent and extend our understanding of the neural correlates of stair climbing in older adults, future studies should examine more difficult cognitive tasks.

Brain Sciences