Obesity-specific neural cost of maintaining gait performance under complex conditions in community-dwelling older adults

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Abstract

Background:

Recent evidence of obesity-related changes in the prefrontal cortex during cognitive and seated motor activities has surfaced; however, the impact of obesity on neural activity during ambulation remains unclear. The purpose of this study was to determine obesity-specific neural cost of simple and complex ambulation in older adults.

Methods:

Twenty non-obese and obese individuals, 65 years and older, performed three tasks varying in the types of complexity of ambulation (simple walking, walking + cognitive dual-task, and precision walking). Maximum oxygenated hemoglobin, a measure of neural activity, was measured bilaterally using a portable functional near infrared spectroscopy system, and gait speed and performance on the complex tasks were also obtained.

Findings:

Complex ambulatory tasks were associated with ˜ 2–3.5 times greater cerebral oxygenation levels and ˜ 30–40% slower gait speeds when compared to the simple walking task. Additionally, obesity was associated with three times greater oxygenation levels, particularly during the precision gait task, despite obese adults demonstrating similar gait speeds and performances on the complex gait tasks as non-obese adults.

Interpretation:

Compared to existing studies that focus solely on biomechanical outcomes, the present study is one of the first to examine obesity-related differences in neural activity during ambulation in older adults. In order to maintain gait performance, obesity was associated with higher neural costs, and this was augmented during ambulatory tasks requiring greater precision control. These preliminary findings have clinical implications in identifying individuals who are at greater risk of mobility limitations, particularly when performing complex ambulatory tasks.

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