Summary: Brain performance improves in older adults when they combine cognitive tasks with walking.
Source: University of Rochester
In search of the famous fountain of youth, scientists have long looked for evidence of super-agers—people whose brains age more slowly than their bodies.
Researchers at the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester found in older adults that brain performance improved when they combined a cognitive task with walking.
“Identifying super-agers will benefit what we understand about the brain and aging,” said Eleni Patelaki, a Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Rochester Medical Center and first author of the paper that appears today in NeuroImage.
“But it is difficult to do because, in this case, there is no external evidence of this ability, and people do not know that their brain works differently.”
Walking and working exposes the brain’s flexibility
The researchers had the participants complete the same cognitive task while sitting and while walking. The 37 men and women, ages 62 to 79, scored the same while sitting. When the same group repeated the test while walking, the researchers found that some individuals improved their cognitive performance. The researchers used Mobile Brain/Body Imaging (MoBI) to observe these changes and measure how the brain responded to the dual task.
“We think this brain activity may be generating signatures of ‘super-aging,'” Patelaki said. “We found seven people, and now that we know where and how to look in the brain to find these super-agers, we can find more.”
Participants whose cognition improved while walking showed that their brain was able to adapt and improve on the task—it had the ability to adapt to the use of certain frontal resources. But those same people lost their flexibility in using the rest of their neural resources, just like their peers who didn’t improve on the task while walking. This suggests that the brain’s ability to adapt or its ability to redeploy neural resources during walking may be an important factor in protecting cognition as we age.
Some young adults’ brains also improve
Previously, the same group of researchers at the Frederick J. and Marion A. Schindler Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory discovered that some young, healthy people also improve their performance on cognitive tasks while walking by changing the use of neural resources.
As with adults, there is no predicting who will improve and who will not before being tested. This study was Patelaki’s first hint that the dual-task experiment could find super-agers. Most previous research shows that the more tasks a person has to do at once, the worse they do, especially older individuals.
Building a map for brain health
Brain flexibility is an indicator of brain health. This research offers a potentially necessary component for monitoring an individual’s brain health—it finds where to look.
“These findings hold promise for translation to clinical populations, such as patients with neurodegenerative diseases,” said Ed Freedman, Ph.D., associate professor of Neuroscience and senior author of the study. this. “These markers can be used to assess the degree of disease progression, to evaluate treatment outcomes, and potentially identify people, pre-clinically, at high risk for developing aging-related or disease-related dementia.”
Additional authors include John Foxe, Ph.D., Emma Mantel, George Kassis of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester. This research was supported by the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience Pilot Program, Recordings were conducted at the University of Rochester Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (UR-IDDRC).
About this aging, cognition, and exercise research news
Author: Press Office
Source: University of Rochester
Contact: Press Office – University of Rochester
Image: The image is in the public domain
Original Research: Open access.
“Paradoxical improvement of cognitive control in older adults under dual-task walking conditions is associated with more flexible transformation of neural resources: A Mobile Brain-Body Imaging (MoBI) study” by Eleni Patelaki et al. NeuroImage
Paradoxical improvement of cognitive control in older adults under dual-task walking conditions is associated with more flexible transformation of neural resources: A Mobile Brain-Body Imaging (MoBI) study
Combining walking with a demanding cognitive task has traditionally been expected to elicit decrements in walking and/or cognitive task performance. However, it was recently shown that, in a group of young adults, most participants improved performance when walking was added to performance of a Go/NoGo response inhibition task.
The present study aims to extend previous findings in an older adult group, to investigate whether this improvement when dual-tasking is observed in healthy adults.
Mobile Brain/Body Imaging (MoBI) was used to record electroencephalographic (EEG) activity, three-dimensional (3D) gait kinematics and behavioral responses in a Go/NoGo task, while sitting or walking on a treadmill, in 34 young adults and 37 older adults.
Increased response accuracy during walking, independent of age, was found to be associated with slower responses to stimuli (r = 0.44) and walking-related EEG amplitude modulations in frontocentral regions (r = 0.47) during sensory gating (N1) and conflict monitoring (N2) phases of inhibition, and in left-lateralized prefrontal regions (r = 0.47) in the implementation phase of the prohibition control (P3). These changes in neural activity are related to the cognitive component of inhibition, and they are interpreted as signatures of behavioral improvement during walking.
On the other hand, aging, independent of response accuracy during walking, was found to be associated with slower treadmill walking speed (r = -0.68) and attenuation in EEG amplitude modulations associated with walking in the left dominant frontal (r = -0.44) and parietooccipital regions (r = 0.48) in the N2 phase, and in the centroparietal regions (r = 0.48) at the P3 stage. These changes in neural activity are associated with the motor component of inhibition, and they are interpreted as signatures of aging.
Older adults whose response accuracy ‘paradoxically’ improved during walking showed neural signatures of both behavioral improvement and aging, suggesting that their adaptive ability to redeploy neural resources during walking may be preserved for in the cognitive but not for the motor inhibitory component.
Distinct neural signatures of aging and behavior can be used to identify ‘super-agers’, or individuals at risk for cognitive decline due to aging or neurodegenerative disease.