Cognitive dual-task cost depends on the complexity of the cognitive task, but not on age and disease
Dual-tasking (DT) while walking is common in daily life and can affect both gait and cognitive performance depending on age, attention prioritization, task complexity and medical condition. The aim of the present study was to investigate the effects of DT on cognitive DT cost (DTC) (i) in a dataset including participants of different age groups, with different neurological disorders and chronic low-back pain (cLBP) (ii) at different levels of cognitive task complexity, and (iii) in the context of a setting relevant to daily life, such as combined straight walking and turning.
Materials and methods
Ninety-one participants including healthy younger and older participants and patients with Parkinson's disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Stroke and cLBP performed a simple reaction time (SRT) task and three numerical Stroop tasks under the conditions congruent (StC), neutral (StN) and incongruent (StI). The tasks were performed both standing (single task, ST) and walking (DT), and DTC was calculated. Mixed ANOVAs were used to determine the effect of group and task complexity on cognitive DTC.
A longer response time in DT than in ST was observed during SRT. However, the response time was shorter in DT during StI. DTC decreased with increasing complexity of the cognitive task. There was no significant effect of age and group on cognitive DTC.
Our results suggest that regardless of age and disease group, simple cognitive tasks show the largest and most stable cognitive effects during DT. This may be relevant to the design of future observational studies, clinical trials and for clinical routine.