Observing prioritization effects on cognition and gait: The effect of increased cognitive load on cognitively healthy older adults’ dual-task performance

Linda M. Maclean*, Laura J.E. Brown, H. Khadra, Arlene J. Astell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Previous studies exploring the effects of attention-prioritization on cognitively healthy older adults’ gait and cognitive dual task (DT) performance have shown DT cost in gait outcomes but inconsistent effects on cognitive performance, which may reflect task difficulty (the cognitive load). This study aimed to identify whether changing the cognitive load during a walking and counting DT improved the challenge/sensitivity of the cognitive task to observe prioritization effects on concurrent gait and cognitive performance outcomes. Seventy-two cognitively healthy older adults (Mean = 73 years) walked 15 m, counted backwards in 3 s and 7 s as single tasks (ST), and concurrently walked and counted backwards as DTs. Attention-prioritization was examined in Prioritizing Walking (PW) and Prioritizing Counting (PC) DT conditions. Dual-task performance costs (DTC) were calculated for number of correct cognitive responses (CCR) in the counting tasks, and step-time variability and velocity in the gait task. All DT conditions showed a benefit (DTB) for cognitive outcomes with trade-off cost to gait. In the Serial 3 s task, the cognitive DTBs increased in PC over the PW condition (p < 0.05), with a greater cost to walking velocity (p < 0.05). DT effects were more pronounced in the Serial 7 s with a lower cognitive DTB when PC than when PW, (p < 0.05) with no trade-off increase in cost to gait outcomes (p < 0.05). The findings suggest that increased cognitive load during a gait and cognitive DT produces more pronounced gait measures of attention-prioritization in cognitively healthy older adults. A cognitive load effect was also observed in the cognitive outcomes, with unexpected results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-144
Number of pages6
JournalGait and Posture
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes

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