Task specificity impacts dual-task interference in older adults

Farahnaz Fallahtafti, Julie B. Boron, Dawn M. Venema, Hyeon Jung Kim, Jennifer M. Yentes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background: Task prioritization is an important factor determines the magnitude and direction of dual-task interference in older adults. Greater dual-task cost during walking may lead to falling, sometimes causing lasting effects on mobility. Aims: We investigated dual-task interference for walking and cognitive performance. Methods: Twenty healthy, older adults (71 ± 5 years) completed three cognitive tasks: letter fluency, category fluency, and serial subtraction during seated and walking conditions on a self-paced treadmill for 3 min each, in addition to walking only condition. Walking speed, step length and width were measured during walking and each dual-task condition. Results: Comparing the percentage of correct answers in cognitive tasks across single and dual-task conditions, there was a main effect of cognitive task (p = 0.021), showing higher scores during letter fluency compared to serial subtraction (p = 0.011). Step width was significantly wider during dual-task letter fluency compared to walking alone (p = 0.003), category fluency (p = 0.001), and serial subtraction (p = 0.007). Discussion: During both fluency tasks, there was a cost for gait and cognition, with category showing a slightly higher cognitive cost compared to letter fluency. During letter fluency, to maintain cognitive performance, gait was sacrificed by increasing step width. During serial subtraction, there was a cost for gait, yet a benefit for cognitive performance. Conclusion: Differential effect of cognitive task on dual-task performance is critical to be understood in designing future research or interventions to improve dual-task performance of most activities of daily living.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)581-587
Number of pages7
JournalAging Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Cognition
  • Dual-task cost
  • Fluency task
  • Gait

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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