Interaction between attention demanding motor and cognitive tasks and static postural stability

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Background: Due to the often-reported decrease in postural stability in the elderly, it is important to understand factors that may contribute to reduced postural stability. It is possible that attention-demanding focal tasks performed concurrent with postural regulation influence postural stability. Objective: This study utilized dual-task methodology to determine if motor or cognitive focal tasks interact with center of pressure (COP) excursion during static bipedal stance in healthy young and healthy elderly subjects (n = 18). Methods: The cognitive task involved silently solving an orally-presented multi-step arithmetic problem over a 30-second period. The motor task was a 30-second bilateral static finger-thumb pinch task performed at 10% of maximal voluntary contraction with a pair of pinch-force transducers. Each focal task was performed separately, and in a condition in which both tasks were performed simultaneously. COP excursion was compared in quiet standing (no focal task) and during performance of the focal tasks with full vision and with vision occluded. Results: Performance on the focal tasks was unaffected by increased postural demands during stance as compared to a seated baseline condition. This was the case for both age groups, and for the full vision and occluded vision conditions. Medio-lateral COP excursion was reduced over the quiet standing pretest condition when attentional focus was on the cognitive task, suggesting that COP was influenced centrally during cognition. In contrast, COP excursion increased over the quiet standing pretest condition when performing the motor focal task, suggesting a reduced ability to suppress sway when the motor system was concurrently occupied with a voluntary task that shared the same input-output resources. Conclusion: The ability to share attentional resources among focal and postural tasks was similar in healthy young and elderly subjects. Copyright © 2003 S. Karger AG, Basel.

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