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Clinical Investigations: AIRWAY DISEASE |

The Relationships Among Pulmonary Function, Aerobic Fitness, and Cognitive Functioning in Older COPD Patients*

Jennifer Etnier, PhD; Rebecca Johnston, MS; Dale Dagenbach, PhD; R. Joy Pollard, BS; W. Jack Rejeski, PhD; Michael Berry, PhD
Author and Funding Information

Affiliations: *From the Department of Health and Exercise Science, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC.,  Currently at the Department of Exercise Science and Physical Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. Supported by National Institutes of Health grant HL 53755.

Correspondence to: Jennifer Etnier, PhD, Arizona State University, PO Box 870701, Tempe, AZ 85287-0701; e-mail: Jennifer.Etnier@ASU.EDU



Chest. 1999;116(4):953-960. doi:10.1378/chest.116.4.953
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Study objectives: To study the predictive relationships among age, pulmonary function, aerobic fitness, and cognition in people with COPD.

Design: Observational study conducted during baseline testing with COPD patients who volunteered to participate in an exercise intervention.

Participants: Older adults (age, 56 to 80 years) with COPD.

Measurements and results: Age, depression, education level, aerobic fitness, blood oxygen saturation levels, and pulmonary function were assessed. Participants were randomly assigned to take cognitive tests of (1) fluid intelligence, (2) processing speed and working memory span, or (3) processing speed and inhibition. After controlling for education and depression (F2,57 = 7.43; r2 = 0.21), performance on the 6-min walk (F1,56 = 15.27; r2 = 0.17) and age (F1,55 = 7.52; r2 = 0.08) were significant predictors of fluid intelligence. On the speed-of-processing task, performance on the 6-min walk (F1,30 = 8.17; r2 = 0.20), maximum voluntary ventilation (F1,29 = 5.81; r2 = 0.16), and age (F1,28 = 5.26; r2 = 0.10) were significant predictors. FVC was a significant predictor (F1,25 = 6.37; r2 = 0.18) of working memory span. The ability to inhibit a response was not significantly predicted by any of the variables assessed.

Conclusions: In an older COPD sample, age, aerobic fitness, and pulmonary function are predictive of cognitive performance on various tasks. In particular, age and aerobic fitness are predictive of speed of processing, which is a cognitive variable that may itself underlie performance on a majority of cognitive tasks.


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