Congratulations to Kelly Hawkins who was awarded the RSD program’s Outstanding Student Publication award for 2018-19 for her paper “Prefrontal over-activation during walking in people with mobility deficits: Interpretation and functional implications.”
In collaboration with her lead mentor Emily Fox, PT, DPT, PhD, NCS, research assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, and co-mentor David Clark, ScD, research associate professor in the Department of Aging & Geriatric Research, this study was conducted at the VA Brain Rehabilitation Research Center and Brooks Rehabilitation, with additional support from the University of Florida Department of Physical Therapy and Department of Aging and Geriatric Research.
This research used a mobile neuroimaging approach (fNIRS) to measure prefrontal cortical activity during walking. Prefrontal activity is a physiological indicator of attentional demand. Compared to healthy young participants, prefrontal/attentional demand during walking was substantially increased for frail elderly and people post-stroke.
As often observed in the physical therapy clinic, these individuals have to “think about their walking” and therefore have difficulty directing attention to external features of the environment (e.g., stepping onto a curb) or multi-tasking (e.g., conversing with a friend). The increased attentional demand required for walking places them at risk for adverse events such as trips and falls. This study shows the importance of accounting for neural control strategies of walking, which may be better than traditional measures such as gait speed for understanding one’s ability to walk safely in complex environments.