Changes in Standing and Walking Performance Under Dual-Task Conditions Across the Lifespan

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Abstract

Simultaneous performance of a postural and a concurrent task is rather unproblematic as long as the postural task is executed in an automatic way. However, in situations where postural control requires more central processing, cognitive resources may be exceeded by the addition of an attentionally demanding task. This may lead to interference between the two tasks, manifested in a decreased performance in one or both tasks (dual-task costs). Owing to changes in attentional demands of postural tasks as well as processing capacities across the lifespan, it might be assumed that dual-task costs are particularly pronounced in children and older adults probably leading to a U-shaped pattern for dual-task costs as a function of age. However, these changes in the ability of dual-tasking posture from childhood to old age have not yet been systematically reviewed. Therefore, Web of Science and PubMed databases were searched for studies comparing dual-task performance with one task being standing or walking in healthy groups of young adults and either children or older adults. Seventy-nine studies met inclusion criteria. For older adults, the expected increase in dual-task costs could be confirmed. In contrast, in children there was only feeble evidence for a trend towards enlarged dual-task costs. More good-quality studies comparing dual-task ability in children, young, and, ideally, also older adults within the same paradigm are needed to draw unambiguous conclusions about lifespan development of dual-task performance in postural tasks. There is evidence that, in older adults, dual-task performance can be improved by training. For the other age groups, these effects have yet to be investigated.

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