Walking while talking: effect of task prioritization in the elderly

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2007 Jan;88(1):50-3. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2006.10.007.


Objective: To examine the effect of 2 instructions on the same walking while talking (WWT) task on task prioritization by nondisabled subjects.

Design: Cross-sectional survey with within subject comparisons.

Setting: Community-based sample.

Participants: Older adults (N=189; mean age, 80.2+/-4.9y), who did not meet criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition, for dementia and were able to independently perform activities of daily living.

Interventions: Not applicable.

Main outcome measures: Verbal and gait measures on the same WWT task with 2 different instructions: paying attention to both talking and walking (WWT-C) and paying attention only to talking (WWT-T).

Results: Task prioritization effects were seen on walking but not on talking. Compared with their baseline normal walking velocity (without talking), subjects slowed down more on WWT-T (median change, 28.3%) than WWT-C (median change, 26.4%). Comparing the 2 WWT conditions, velocity and cadence was slower during WWT-T compared with WWT-C, with longer stride length. Verbal output was not significantly different on the 2 conditions.

Conclusions: Changing instructions while maintaining the same cognitive and motor tasks on WWT in older adults result in task prioritization effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology
  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over* / physiology
  • Aged, 80 and over* / psychology
  • Attention / physiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise Test
  • Female
  • Gait / physiology
  • Geriatric Assessment* / methods
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Time Factors
  • Walking* / physiology
  • Walking* / psychology