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Lifebrain Monthly E-newsletter, November 2017

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Maintaining Mobility May Contribute to Better Cognition and Brain Connectivity in Older Age?

The capacity to move is crucial for maintaining independence and quality of life in old age. Unfortunately, as we grow older our mobility is reduced and this can increase the risk of falls, disability and hospitalisations. In a recent study of 387 healthy participants from the Whitehall II Imaging cohort, researchers examined how mobility was linked with cognitive and brain health in people who were 60 to 85 years of age.
Source: Max Pixel
Mobility includes multiple qualities such as the ability to walk, maintain balance, and rise from a seated position. Most studies on mobility have focused on gait, but other aspects like balance and leg strength, remain under-investigated. Demnitz and colleagues monitored mobility by combining tests like walking speed to assess gait, chair rise to evaluate leg strength, and one-legged stands to gauge balance.
Source: Harvard Health- Harvard University
These mobility tests were performed between 2007 and 2009, and five years later, participants received cognitive tests and MRI scans to monitor brain health. The scientists investigated how mobility was related to brain volume, the connectivity of brain white matter (the bundles of fibres connecting one brain region to another), and performance on the cognitive tests.

They found that better performance on the balance and chair stands tests was associated with larger volumes of brain regions related to movement, such as the cerebellum and basal ganglia. People who performed well on the tests of leg strength, i.e. the chair stands test, also had better measures of white matter connectivity.

Figure modified from Demnitz et al (2017), Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience

Although mobility was not linked with memory performance, all mobility outcomes were associated with faster mental processing. Quicker walking speed was also correlated with better executive function, which relates to skills like attention, planning and organisation. All these associations were found regardless of age, sex or education level.
This is the first study to examine how multiple mobility outcomes relate to cognition and brain structure in healthy older adults. “It is our hope that a better understanding of mobility in ageing will guide community interventions aimed at improving mobility and cognition in older adults,” says Dr Claire Sexton, co-author of the paper and member of the Lifebrain research team.


Source of the newsletter

This newsletter is written by Dr Sana Suri, postdoctoral researcher with the Whitehall II Imaging Study at the University of Oxford. Sana is a member of the science communication and research team in Lifebrain.

The referred study:

Demnitz et al. (2017). Associations between mobility, cognition, and brain structure in healthy older adults. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 9:155



Center for Lifespan Changes in Brain and Cognition at the University of Oslo
Kristine B. Walhovd project coordinator
Barbara B. Friedman administrative coordinator
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This project has received funding from the European Union ’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 732592.
Copyright © 2017 Lifebrain Horizon2020 project, All rights reserved.

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