Human cognitive-motor performance largely depends on how brain resources are allocated during simultaneous tasks. Nonetheless, little is known regarding the age-related changes in electrocortical activity when dual-task during walking presents higher complexity levels. Thus, the aim of this study was to investigate whether there are distinct changes in walking performance and electrocortical activation between young and older adults performing simple and complex upper limb response time tasks. Physically active young (23 ± 3 years, n = 21) and older adults (69 ± 5 years, n = 19) were asked to respond as fast as possible to a single stimuli or a double stimuli appearing on a touch screen during standing and walking. Response time, step frequency, step frequency variability and electroencephalographic (EEG) N200 and P300 amplitudes and latencies from frontal central and parietal brain regions were recorded. The results demonstrated that older adults were 23% slower to respond to double stimuli, whereas younger adults were only 12% slower ( p < 0.01). The longer response time for older adults was accompanied by greater step frequency variability following double-stimuli presentations ( p < 0.01). Older adults presented reduced N200 and P300 amplitudes compared to younger participants across all conditions ( p < 0.001), with no effects of posture (standing vs walking) on both groups ( p > 0.05). More importantly, the P300 amplitude was significantly reduced for older adults when responding to double stimuli regardless of standing or walking tasks ( p < 0.05), with no changes in younger participants. Therefore, physically active older adults can attenuate potential walking deficits experienced during dual-task walking in simple cognitive tasks. However, cognitive tasks involving decision making influence electrocortical activation due to reduced cognitive resources to cope with the task demands.
Bibliographical noteCopyright © 2022 Vila-Chã, Vaz and Oliveira.
- cognitive load
- physical activity