Executive function processes predict mobility outcomes in older adults

Neha P. Gothe, Jason Fanning, Elizabeth Awick, David Chung, Thomas R. Wójcicki, Erin A. Olson, Sean P. Mullen, Michelle Voss, Kirk I. Erickson, Arthur F. Kramer, Edward McAuley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives To examine the relationship between performance on executive function measures and subsequent mobility outcomes in community-dwelling older adults. Design Randomized controlled clinical trial. Setting Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Participants Community-dwelling older adults (N = 179; mean age 66.4). Intervention A 12-month exercise trial with two arms: an aerobic exercise group and a stretching and strengthening group. Measurements Established cognitive tests of executive function (flanker task, task switching, and a dual-task paradigm) and the Wisconsin card sort test. Mobility was assessed using the timed 8-foot up and go test and times to climb up and down a flight of stairs. Methods Participants completed the cognitive tests at baseline and the mobility measures at baseline and after 12 months of the intervention. Multiple regression analyses were conducted to determine whether baseline executive function predicted postintervention functional performance after controlling for age, sex, education, cardiorespiratory fitness, and baseline mobility levels. Results Selective baseline executive function measurements, particularly performance on the flanker task (β = 0.15-0.17) and the Wisconsin card sort test (β = 0.11-0.16) consistently predicted mobility outcomes at 12 months. The estimates were in the expected direction, such that better baseline performance on the executive function measures predicted better performance on the timed mobility tests independent of intervention. Conclusion Executive functions of inhibitory control, mental set shifting, and attentional flexibility were predictive of functional mobility. Given the literature associating mobility limitations with disability, morbidity, and mortality, these results are important for understanding the antecedents to poor mobility function that well-designed interventions to improve cognitive performance can attenuate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-290
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2014


  • cognitive
  • executive function
  • functional fitness
  • mobility outcomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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