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BACKGROUND: Cognition is a key factor in the regulation of normal walking and dual-task gait assessment is an accepted method to evaluate the relationship. The objective of this study was to create a framework for task complexity of concurrent motor and cognitive tasks with gait in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
METHODS: Community-dwelling people with MCI (n = 41, mean age = 76.20 ± 7.65 years) and cognitively normal controls (n = 41, mean age = 72.10 ± 3.80 years) participated in this study. Gait velocity was collected using an instrumented walkway under one single task and six combined tasks of motor and cognitive activities. The cognitive cost was the difference between the single gait task and each of the concurrent motor and cognitive challenges. A repeated two-way measure ANOVA assessed the effect of cognitive group and walking test condition for each gait task test.
RESULTS: Gait velocity was significantly slower in the MCI group under all tasks. For both groups, the concurrent motor task of carrying a glass of water conferred a challenge not different from the cognitive task of counting backwards by ones. Performance of the complex cognitive task of serial seven subtractions reduced gait velocity in both groups, but produced a greater change in the MCI group (31.8%).
CONCLUSIONS: Not all concurrent tasks challenge cognition-motor interaction equivalently. This study has created a framework of task difficulty which allows for the translation of dual-task test conditions to future research and clinical practice to ensure the accuracy of assessing patient deficits and risk.
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