Cognitive-motor dual-tasking involves concurrent performance of two tasks with distinct cognitive and motor demands and is associated with increased fall risk. In this hypothesis-driven study, younger (18–30 years, n = 24) and older (60–75 years, n = 26) adults completed six walking tasks in triplicate. Participants walked forward and backward along a GAITRite mat, in isolation or while performing a verbal fluency task. Verbal fluency tasks involved verbally listing or typing on a smartphone as many words as possible within a given category (e.g., clothes). Using repeated measures MANOVA models, we examined how age, method of fluency task (verbal or texting), and direction of walking altered dual-task performance. Given that tasks like texting and backward walking require greater cognitive resources than verbal and forward walking tasks, respectively, we hypothesized older adults would show higher dual-task costs (DTCs) than younger adults across different task types and walking directions, with degree of impairment more apparent in texting dual-task trials compared to verbal dual-task trials. We also hypothesized that both age groups would have greater DTCs while walking backward than while walking forward, regardless of task. Independent of age group, velocity and stride length were reduced for texting compared to the verbal task during both forward and backward walking; cadence and velocity were reduced while walking forward compared to walking backward for the texting task; and stride length was reduced for forward walking compared to backward walking during the verbal task. Younger adults performed better than older adults on all tasks with the most pronounced differences seen in velocity and stride length during forward-texting and backward-texting. Interaction effects for velocity and stride length while walking forward indicated younger adults performed better than older adults for the texting task but similarly during the verbal task. An interaction for cadence during the verbal task indicated younger adults performed better than older adults while walking backward but similarly while walking forward. In summary, older adults experienced greater gait decrement for all dual-task conditions. The greater declines in velocity and stride length in combination with cadence being stable suggest reductions in velocity during texting were due to shorter strides rather than a reduced rate of stepping. Contrary to our hypotheses, we found greater DTCs while walking forward rather than backward, which may be due to reduced gait performance during single-task backward walking; thus, further decrements with dual-tasking are unlikely. These findings underscore the need for further research investigating fall risk potential associated with texting and walking among aging populations and how interventions targeting stride length during dual-task circumstances may improve performance.
- Older adults
- Verbal fluency