Treadmill walking reduces pre-frontal activation in patients with Parkinson's disease


Background: Among patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD), gait is typically disturbed and less automatic. These gait changes are associated with impaired rhythmicity and increased prefrontal activation, presumably in an attempt to compensate for reduced automaticity. Research question: We investigated whether during treadmill walking, when the pace is determined and fixed, prefrontal activation in patients with PD is lower, as compared to over-ground walking. Methods: Twenty patients with PD (age: 69.8 ± 6.5 yrs.; MoCA: 26.9 ± 2.4; disease duration: 7.9 ± 4.2 yrs) walked at a self-selected walking speed over-ground and on a treadmill. A wireless functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) system measured prefrontal lobe activation, i.e., oxygenated hemoglobin (Hb02) in the pre-frontal area. Gait was evaluated using 3D-accelerometers attached to the lower back and ankles (Opal™ APDM). Dynamic gait stability was assessed using the maximum Lyapunov exponent to investigate automaticity of the walking pattern. Results: Hb02 was lower during treadmill walking than during over-ground walking (p = 0.001). Gait stability was greater on the treadmill, compared to over-ground walking, in both the anteroposterior and medio-lateral axes (p < 0.001). Significance: These findings support the notion that when gait is externally paced, prefrontal lobe activation is reduced in patients with PD, perhaps reflecting a reduced need for compensatory cognitive mechanisms.

Gait and Posture