Mobility and cognitive impairments are common in persons with multiple sclerosis (MS), and are expected to worsen with increasing age. However, no studies, to date, in part due to limitations of conventional neuroimaging methods, have examined changes in brain activation patterns during active locomotion in older patients with MS. This study used functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) to evaluate real-time neural activation differences in the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) between middle-aged to older adults with MS and healthy controls during single (Normal Walk; NW) and dual-task (Walking While Talking; WWT) locomotion tasks. Eight middle-aged to older adults with MS and eight healthy controls underwent fNIRS recording while performing the NW and WWT tasks with an fNIRS cap consisting of 16 optodes positioned over the forehead. The MS group had greater elevations in PFC oxygenation levels during WWT compared to NW than healthy controls. There was no walking performance difference between groups during locomotion.
These findings suggest that middle-aged to older individuals with MS might be able to achieve similar levels of performance through the use of increased brain activation. This study is the first to investigate brain activation changes during the performance of simple and divided-attention locomotion tasks in MS using fNIRS.