Validation of the Auditory Stroop Task to increase cognitive load in walking tasks in healthy elderly and persons with Parkinson’s disease

S. Janssen, J.J.A. Heijs, W. van der Meijs, J. Nonnekes, M. Bittner, L.D.A. Dorresteijn, B.R. Bloem, R.J.A. van Wezel, T. Heida

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    Background: The development of treatments for freezing of gait (FOG) in Parkinson’s disease (PD) requires experimental study set-ups in which FOG is likely to occur, and is amenable to therapeutic interventions. We explore whether the ‘Auditory Stroop Task’ (AST) can be used to increase cognitive load (and thereby elicit FOG), simultaneously with visual cues (as a therapeutic intervention for FOG). We additionally examined how these two contrasting effects might interact in affecting gait and FOG parameters.

    Objectives: We investigated whether: (1) the ‘Auditory Stroop Task’ (AST) influences gait in healthy elderly and persons with PD who experience FOG, and increases the frequency of FOG events among PD patients; (2) the AST and visual cues interact; and (3) different versions of the AST exert different cognitive loads.

    Methods: In ‘Experiment 1’, 19 healthy elderly subjects performed a walking task while performing a high and low load version of the AST. Walking with a random numbers task, and walking without cognitive load served as control conditions. In ‘Experiment 2’, 20 PD patients with FOG and 18 healthy controls performed a walking task with the AST, and no additional cognitive load as control condition. Both experiments were performed with and without visual cues. Velocity, cadence, stride length, and stride time were measured in all subjects. FOG severity was measured in patients.

    Results: Compared to the control conditions, the AST negatively affected all gait parameters in both patients and controls. The AST did not increase the occurrence of FOG in patients. Visual cues reduced the decline in stride length induced by cognitive load in both groups. Both versions of the AST exerted similar effects on gait parameters in controls.

    Conclusions: The AST is well-suited to simulate the effects of cognitive load on gait parameters, but not FOG severity, in gait experiments in persons with PD and FOG.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere0220735
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2019


    • Parkinson's disease
    • Freezing of gait
    • Cognitive load
    • Methods


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