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The Intersection of Physical Function, Cognitive Performance, Aging, and Multiple Sclerosis

A Cross-sectional Comparative Study

Bollaert, Rachel E. PhD*; Sandroff, Brian M. PhD; Stine-Morrow, Elizabeth A.L. PhD; Sutton, Bradley P. PhD; Motl, Robert W. PhD

Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology: March 2019 - Volume 32 - Issue 1 - p 1–10
doi: 10.1097/WNN.0000000000000179
Original Studies

Objective: To examine the associations between physical function (walking speed and endurance and functional mobility) and cognitive function (information processing speed and verbal memory) in older adults with multiple sclerosis (MS) and healthy controls.

Background: Older adults with MS have worse physical and cognitive function than older adults without MS and young and middle-aged adults with MS. To date, little is known about the associations between, or coupling of, physical and cognitive function outcomes in older adults with MS.

Methods: We administered physical and cognitive function measures to 40 older adults with MS and 40 demographically matched healthy controls. Pearson product moment correlations were used to examine bivariate linear relationships in the overall sample and in the subsamples of (a) older adults with MS and (b) healthy controls. Linear regression analyses were used to examine the independent associations between demographic characteristics and physical and cognitive function variables in the two subsamples.

Results: In the overall sample, all physical function variables were significantly correlated with cognitive function, as measured by information processing speed, and these correlations were mainly due to the subsample of older adults with MS. The linear regression analyses further indicated that information processing speed and years of education consistently explained variance in all physical function variables, beyond the influence of demographic variables, in older adults with MS.

Conclusions: Physical function and information processing speed are strongly correlated in older adults with MS. Future research should examine underlying neurobehavioral mechanisms associated with physical and cognitive function as well as behavioral strategies for jointly improving these functions in older adults with MS.

*Program in Exercise Science, Department of Physical Therapy, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Department of Physical Therapy, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama

Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & Technology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois

Supported in part by the Paul D. Doolen Graduate Scholarship for the Study of Aging, University of Illinois, and the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & Technology Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, University of Illinois.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Correspondence: Rachel E. Bollaert, PhD, Program in Exercise Science, Department of Physical Therapy, Marquette University, P.O. Box 1881, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201 (e-mail:

Received March 14, 2018

Accepted October 31, 2018

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