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Association of Neurocognitive and Physical Function With Gait Speed in Midlife

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  • Line Jee Hartmann Rasmussen
  • Avshalom Caspi
  • Antony Ambler
  • Jonathan M Broadbent
  • Harvey J Cohen
  • Tracy d'Arbeloff
  • Maxwell Elliott
  • Robert J Hancox
  • HonaLee Harrington
  • Sean Hogan
  • Renate Houts
  • David Ireland
  • Annchen R Knodt
  • Kim Meredith-Jones
  • Miriam C Morey
  • Lynda Morrison
  • Richie Poulton
  • Sandhya Ramrakha
  • Leah Richmond-Rakerd
  • Maria L Sison
  • Kate Sneddon
  • W Murray Thomson
  • Ahmad R Hariri
  • Terrie E Moffitt
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Importance: Gait speed is a well-known indicator of risk of functional decline and mortality in older adults, but little is known about the factors associated with gait speed earlier in life.

Objectives: To test the hypothesis that slow gait speed reflects accelerated biological aging at midlife, as well as poor neurocognitive functioning in childhood and cognitive decline from childhood to midlife.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study uses data from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, a population-based study of a representative 1972 to 1973 birth cohort in New Zealand that observed participants to age 45 years (until April 2019). Data analysis was performed from April to June 2019.

Exposures: Childhood neurocognitive functions and accelerated aging, brain structure, and concurrent physical and cognitive functions in adulthood.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Gait speed at age 45 years, measured under 3 walking conditions: usual, dual task, and maximum gait speeds.

Results: Of the 1037 original participants (91% of eligible births; 535 [51.6%] male), 997 were alive at age 45 years, of whom 904 (90.7%) had gait speed measured (455 [50.3%] male; 93% white). The mean (SD) gait speeds were 1.30 (0.17) m/s for usual gait, 1.16 (0.23) m/s for dual task gait, and 1.99 (0.29) m/s for maximum gait. Adults with more physical limitations (standardized regression coefficient [β], -0.27; 95% CI, -0.34 to -0.21; P < .001), poorer physical functions (ie, weak grip strength [β, 0.36; 95% CI, 0.25 to 0.46], poor balance [β, 0.28; 95% CI, 0.21 to 0.34], poor visual-motor coordination [β, 0.24; 95% CI, 0.17 to 0.30], and poor performance on the chair-stand [β, 0.34; 95% CI, 0.27 to 0.40] or 2-minute step tests [β, 0.33; 95% CI, 0.27 to 0.39]; all P < .001), accelerated biological aging across multiple organ systems (β, -0.33; 95% CI, -0.40 to -0.27; P < .001), older facial appearance (β, -0.25; 95% CI, -0.31 to -0.18; P < .001), smaller brain volume (β, 0.15; 95% CI, 0.06 to 0.23; P < .001), more cortical thinning (β, 0.09; 95% CI, 0.02 to 0.16; P = .01), smaller cortical surface area (β, 0.13; 95% CI, 0.04 to 0.21; P = .003), and more white matter hyperintensities (β, -0.09; 95% CI, -0.15 to -0.02; P = .01) had slower gait speed. Participants with lower IQ in midlife (β, 0.38; 95% CI, 0.32 to 0.44; P < .001) and participants who exhibited cognitive decline from childhood to adulthood (β, 0.10; 95% CI, 0.04 to 0.17; P < .001) had slower gait at age 45 years. Those with poor neurocognitive functioning as early as age 3 years had slower gait in midlife (β, 0.26; 95% CI, 0.20 to 0.32; P < .001).

Conclusions and Relevance: Adults' gait speed is associated with more than geriatric functional status; it is also associated with midlife aging and lifelong brain health.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1913123
JournalJAMA network open
Volume2
Issue number10
ISSN2574-3805
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2019

ID: 58139528