Walking within the community requires the ability to walk while simultaneously completing other tasks. After a stroke, completing an additional task while walking is significantly impaired, and it is unclear how the functional activity of the brain may impact this.
Twenty individual in the chronic stage post-stroke participated in this study. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) was used to measure prefrontal, pre-motor, sensorimotor, and posterior parietal cortices during walking and walking while completing secondary verbal tasks of varying difficulty. Changes in brain activity during these tasks were measured and relationships were accessed between brain activation changes and cognitive or motor abilities.
Significantly larger activations were found for prefrontal, pre-motor, and posterior parietal cortices during dual-task walking. Increasing dual-task walking challenge did not result in an increase in brain activation in these regions. Higher general cognition related to lower increases in activation during the easier dual-task. With the harder dual-task, a trend was also found for higher activation and less motor impairment.
This is the first study to show that executive function, motor preparation/planning, and sensorimotor integration areas are all important for dual-task walking post-stroke. A lack of further brain activation increase with increasing challenge suggests a point at which a trade-off between brain activation and performance occurs. Further research is needed to determine if training would result in further increases in brain activity or improved performance.