Older people with stronger cognitive skills walk at a safer pace

March 26, 2006

Psychologists wanting to help old people safely cross the street and otherwise ambulate around this busy world have found that from age 70 and up, safe walking may require solid "executive control" (which includes attention) and memory skills. For the old, slow gait is a significant risk factor for falls, many of which result in disabling fractures, loss of independence or even death. The finding may help explain why cognitive problems in old age, including dementia, are associated with falls. Cognitive tests could help doctors assess risk for falls; conversely, slow gait could alert them to check for cognitive impairment. The findings are in the March issue of Neuropsychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Roee Holtzer, PhD, and his colleagues conducted a cross-sectional study of 186 cognitively normal, community-dwelling adults aged 70 and older at New York City's Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Gait speed was tested with and without interference. In the interference conditions, participants had to walk while reciting alternate letters of the alphabet.

Performance on cognitive tests of executive control and memory, and to a lesser extent of verbal ability, predicted "gait velocity" (walking speed) tested without interference. For gait velocity tested with interference, only executive control and memory were predictive. Adding interference to the tests of gait allowed the researchers to better simulate the real world, in which walkers continually deal with distractions. The authors conclude that executive control and memory function are important when the individual has to walk in a busy environment.

The findings suggest that in old age, walking involves higher-order executive-control processes. That is, the intersecting cognitive and motor processes involved in walking may both rely on a common brain substrate, or set of structures. As a result, changes in that substrate would affect both cognition and gait.

Falls are a serious public-health issue for an aging population. Many older people are aging in the suburbs, where traffic conditions are often not designed for pedestrians of any age. And in cities, traffic lights at busy intersections are not usually timed to give people with slower perceptions and reflexes more time to safely cross the street.

Holtzer says that risk assessment and prevention programs for falls, which have typically focused on balance, strength and gait but not cognitive function, have had limited success. Given the new research, he posits that cognitive and neuropsychological performance, plus gait, could both factor into risk assessment and intervention design. What's more, cognitive rehabilitation and/or medication targeting cognitive functions such as executive control and memory might, among other benefits, reduce the risk of falling in people at risk.

Future study is needed to follow people through the life span to see how age affects the relationship between cognitive functions and gait. Holtzer cites evidence that gait is more automatic and less effortful in young than old people and points out that even within the narrow age range of his study's participant sample, each additional year tightened the relationship between cognitive function and gait velocity.
Article: "Cognitive Processes Related to Gait Velocity: Results From the Einstein Again Study," Roee Holtzer, PhD, Joe Verghese, MD, Xiaonan Xue, PhD, and Richard B. Lipton, MD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University. Neuropsychology, Vol. 20, No. 2.

(Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at http://www.apa.org/releases/neu202-holtzer.pdf.)

Roee Holtzer can be reached by email at rholtzer@aecom.yu.edu or by phone at (718) 430-3962.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

American Psychological Association

Related Memory Articles from Brightsurf:

Memory of the Venus flytrap
In a study to be published in Nature Plants, a graduate student Mr.

Memory protein
When UC Santa Barbara materials scientist Omar Saleh and graduate student Ian Morgan sought to understand the mechanical behaviors of disordered proteins in the lab, they expected that after being stretched, one particular model protein would snap back instantaneously, like a rubber band.

Previously claimed memory boosting font 'Sans Forgetica' does not actually boost memory
It was previously claimed that the font Sans Forgetica could enhance people's memory for information, however researchers from the University of Warwick and the University of Waikato, New Zealand, have found after carrying out numerous experiments that the font does not enhance memory.

Memory boost with just one look
HRL Laboratories, LLC, researchers have published results showing that targeted transcranial electrical stimulation during slow-wave sleep can improve metamemories of specific episodes by 20% after only one viewing of the episode, compared to controls.

VR is not suited to visual memory?!
Toyohashi university of technology researcher and a research team at Tokyo Denki University have found that virtual reality (VR) may interfere with visual memory.

The genetic signature of memory
Despite their importance in memory, the human cortex and subcortex display a distinct collection of 'gene signatures.' The work recently published in eNeuro increases our understanding of how the brain creates memories and identifies potential genes for further investigation.

How long does memory last? For shape memory alloys, the longer the better
Scientists captured live action details of the phase transitions of shape memory alloys, giving them a better idea how to improve their properties for applications.

A NEAT discovery about memory
UAB researchers say over expression of NEAT1, an noncoding RNA, appears to diminish the ability of older brains to form memories.

Molecular memory can be used to increase the memory capacity of hard disks
Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä have taken part in an international British-Finnish-Chinese collaboration where the first molecule capable of remembering the direction of a magnetic above liquid nitrogen temperatures has been prepared and characterized.

Memory transferred between snails
Memories can be transferred between organisms by extracting ribonucleic acid (RNA) from a trained animal and injecting it into an untrained animal, as demonstrated in a study of sea snails published in eNeuro.

Read More: Memory News and Memory Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.