Continuous and difficult discrete cognitive tasks promote improved stability in older adults

Yves Lajoie, Deborah A. Jehu, Natalie Richer, Alan Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Directing attention away from postural control and onto a cognitive task affords the emergence of automatic control processes. Perhaps the continuous withdrawal of attention from the postural task facilitates an automatization of posture as opposed to only intermittent withdrawal; however this is unknown in the aging population. Twenty older adults (69.9 ± 3.5 years) stood with feet together on a force platform for 60 s while performing randomly assigned discrete and continuous cognitive tasks. Participants were instructed to stand comfortably with their arms by their sides while verbally responding to the auditory stimuli as fast as possible during the discrete tasks, or mentally performing the continuous cognitive tasks. Participants also performed single-task standing. Results demonstrate significant reductions in sway amplitude and sway variability for the difficult discrete task as well as the continuous tasks relative to single-task standing. The continuous cognitive tasks also prompted greater frequency of sway in the anterior-posterior direction compared to single-standing and discrete tasks, and greater velocity in both directions compared to single-task standing, which could suggest ankle stiffening. No differences in the simple discrete condition were shown compared to single-task standing, perhaps due to the simplicity of the task. Therefore, we propose that the level of difficulty of the task, the specific neuropsychological process engaged during the cognitive task, and the type of task (discrete vs. continuous) influence postural control in older adults. Dual-tasking is a common activity of daily living; this work provides insight into the age-related changes in postural stability and attention demand.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-48
Number of pages6
JournalGait and Posture
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Continuous cognitive task
  • Discrete cognitive task
  • Dual-task
  • Older adults
  • Postural control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation


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