Why does older adults' balance become less stable when walking and performing a secondary task? Examination of attentional switching abilities

Teresa D. Hawkes, Ka Chun Siu, Patima Silsupadol, Marjorie H. Woollacott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

20 Scopus citations

Abstract

Previous research using dual-task paradigms indicates balance-impaired older adults (BIOAs) are less able to flexibly shift attentional focus between a cognitive and motor task than healthy older adults (HOA). Shifting attention is a component of executive function. Task switch tests assess executive attention function. This multivariate study asked if BIOAs demonstrate greater task switching deficits than HOAs. A group of 39 HOA (65-80 years) and BIOA (65-87 years) subjects performed a visuo-spatial task switch. A sub-group of subjects performed a dual-task obstacle avoidance paradigm. All participants completed the Berg Balance Scale (BBS) and Timed Up and Go (TUG). We assessed differences by group for: (1) visuo-spatial task switch reaction times (switch/no-switch), and performance on the BBS and TUG. Our balance groups differed significantly on BBS score (p<. .001) and switch reaction time (p= .032), but not the TUG. This confirmed our hypothesis that neuromuscular and executive attention function differs between these two groups. For our BIOA sub-group, gait velocity correlated negatively with performance on the switch condition (p= .036). This suggests that BIOA efficiency of attentional allocation in dual task settings should be further explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-163
Number of pages5
JournalGait and Posture
Volume35
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2012

Keywords

  • Aging
  • Balance-impairments
  • Berg Balance Scale
  • Executive function
  • Visuo-spatial task switch paradigm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation

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