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J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2018 Mar;40(2):151-160. doi: 10.1080/13803395.2017.1325453. Epub 2017 May 31.

Comparing executive function, evoked hemodynamic response, and gait as predictors of variations in mobility for older adults.

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a Department of Psychology , University of Victoria , Victoria , BC , Canada.
c Institute of Aging and Lifelong Health , University of Victoria , Victoria , BC , Canada.
b School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education , University of Victoria , Victoria , BC , Canada.
d School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences , Oregon State University , Corvallis , OR , USA.



Falls represent a major concern for older adults and may serve as clinically salient index events for those presenting in the prodromal stages of mild cognitive impairment. Declines in executive function performance and in gait consistency have shown promise in predicting fall risk; however, associated neurophysiological underpinnings have received less attention. In this study, we used a multimodal approach to assess fall risk in a group of older adults with and without a previous fall history.


Processing speed, inductive reasoning, verbal fluency, crystallized ability, episodic memory, and executive functioning were assessed using standardized neuropsychological tests. Cognitive interference was assessed using the Multi-Source Interference Task. Spatiotemporal gait parameters were assessed with and without cognitive load using a 6.4-m instrumented walkway. Hemodynamic responses were measured using functional near-infrared spectroscopy.


Whereas no group differences were observed in cognitive behavioral performance, during a cognitive interference task fallers displayed more oxygenated hemoglobin across the prefrontal cortex than nonfallers, suggesting that engaging in the cognitive task was more effortful for them overall, therefore eliciting greater cortical activation. Between-group differences in spatial as well as temporal gait parameters were also observed.


These results are in keeping with assertions that diminished executive control is related to fall risk. Notably, the group differences observed in prefrontal cortical activation and in gait parameters may ultimately precede those observed in cognitive behavioral performance, with implications for measurement sensitivity and early identification.


Aging; fall risk; functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS); multimodal assessment; variability

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