Dual Tasking in Parkinson’s Disease: Cognitive Consequences While Walking

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Abstract

Objective: Cognitive deficits are common in Parkinson’s disease (PD) and exacerbate the functional limitations imposed by PD’s hallmark motor symptoms, including impairments in walking. Though much research has addressed the effect of dual cognitive-locomotor tasks on walking, less is known about their effect on cognition. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relation between gait and executive function, with the hypothesis that dual tasking would exacerbate cognitive vulnerabilities in PD as well as being associated with gait disturbances. Method: Nineteen individuals with mild–moderate PD without dementia and 13 age- and education-matched normal control adults (NC) participated. Executive function (set-shifting) and walking were assessed singly and during dual tasking. Results: Dual tasking had a significant effect on cognition (reduced set-shifting) and on walking (speed, stride length) for both PD and NC, and also on stride frequency for PD only. The impact of dual tasking on walking speed and stride frequency was significantly greater for PD than NC. Though the group by condition interaction was not significant, PD had fewer set-shifts than NC on dual task. Further, relative to NC, PD showed significantly greater variability in cognitive performance under dual tasking, whereas variability in motor performance remained unaffected by dual tasking. Conclusions: Dual tasking had a significantly greater effect in PD than in NC on cognition as well as on walking. The results suggest that assessment and treatment of PD should consider the cognitive as well as the gait components of PD-related deficits under dual-task conditions.

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