Structural neural correlates of impaired mobility and subsequent decline in executive functions: a 12-month prospective study

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Impaired mobility, such as falls, may be an early biomarker of subsequent cognitive decline and is associated with subclinical alterations in both brain structure and function. In this 12-month prospective study, we examined whether there are volumetric differences in gray matter and subcortical regions, as well as cerebral white matter, between older fallers and non-fallers. In addition, we assessed whether these baseline volumetric differences are associated with changes in cognitive function over 12 months. A total of 66 community-dwelling older adults were recruited and categorized by their falls status. Magnetic resonance imaging occurred at baseline and participants' physical and cognitive performances were assessed at baseline and 12-months. At baseline, fallers showed significantly lower volumes in gray matter, subcortical regions, and cerebral white matter compared with non-fallers. Notably, fallers had significantly lower left lateral orbitofrontal white matter volume. Moreover, lower left lateral orbitofrontal white matter volume at baseline was associated with greater decline in set-shifting performance over 12 months. Our data suggest that falls may indicate subclinical alterations in regional brain volume that are associated with subsequent decline in executive functions.

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