Cognitive-motor interference in multiple sclerosis: What happens when the gait speed is fixed?

During the last decade, numerous studies have confirmed a coupling between walking performance and cognition in people with multiple sclerosis (PwMS). Our aim was to provide new insights into a walking-cognitive dual-task (DT) in PwMS. We tested the DT phenomenon by controlling the walking speed using an instrumented treadmill. Thirty PwMS (20 women) with a mean age 40.1 (SD=12.0) participated in the study. Twenty-one healthy subjects served as controls. Each subject completed a sequence of tests: a) Normal walking (ST) – the participant walked on the instrumented treadmill at a comfortable walking speed for 1min; b) Cognitive evaluation (ST) – subjects performed two cognitive tests while seated; c) DT cognitive tests performed while walking on the treadmill at the identical speed performed during normal walking. Outcome measures were spatio-temporal parameters of gait (mean and variability), the Word List Generation Test (WLG) and the Serial-3 Subtraction Test. MS participants significantly decreased their cadence while increasing their stride length during the DT condition compared to the ST condition. Non-significant differences were observed for the WLG and Serial-3 Subtraction Cognitive Tests between the ST condition and the DT condition in both the MS and healthy groups.

In terms of gait variability parameters, MS subjects demonstrated a 2 to 3-fold greater gait variability compared to the healthy controls. Non-significant differences in gait variability parameters were observed between the ST and DT conditions in both the MS and control groups. This study provides new insights into the DT phenomenon in the MS population.