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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Associations between physical performance and executive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment: gait speed and the timed "up & go" test

Ellen L McGough, Valerie E Kelly, Rebecca G Logsdon, Susan M McCurry, Barbara B Cochrane, Joyce M Engel, Linda Teri
Physical Therapy 2011, 91 (8): 1198-207
21616934

BACKGROUND: Older adults with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) are at higher risk for developing Alzheimer disease. Physical performance decline on gait and mobility tasks in conjunction with executive dysfunction has implications for accelerated functional decline, disability, and institutionalization in sedentary older adults with aMCI.

OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this study was to examine whether performance on 2 tests commonly used by physical therapists (usual gait speed and Timed "Up & Go" Test [TUG]) are associated with performance on 2 neuropsychological tests of executive function (Trail Making Test, part B [TMT-B], and Stroop-Interference, calculated from the Stroop Word Color Test) in sedentary older adults with aMCI.

DESIGN: The study was a cross-sectional analysis of 201 sedentary older adults with memory impairment participating in a longitudinal intervention study of cognitive function, aging, exercise, and health promotion.

METHODS: Physical performance speed on gait and mobility tasks was measured via usual gait speed and the TUG (at fast pace). Executive function was measured with the TMT-B and Stroop-Interference measures.

RESULTS: Applying multiple linear regression, usual gait speed was associated with executive function on both the TMT-B (β=-0.215, P=.003) and Stroop-Interference (β=-0.195, P=.01) measures, indicating that slower usual gait speed was associated with lower executive function performance. Timed "Up & Go" Test scores (in logarithmic transformation) also were associated with executive function on both the TMT-B (β=0.256, P<.001) and Stroop-Interference (β=0.228, P=.002) measures, indicating that a longer time on the TUG was associated with lower executive function performance. All associations remained statistically significant after adjusting for age, sex, depressive symptoms, medical comorbidity, and body mass index.

LIMITATIONS: The cross-sectional nature of this study does not allow for inferences of causation.

CONCLUSIONS: Physical performance speed was associated with executive function after adjusting for age, sex, and age-related factors in sedentary older adults with aMCI. Further research is needed to determine mechanisms and early intervention strategies to slow functional decline.

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