Previous research using dual-task paradigms indicates balance-impaired older adults (BIOAs) are less able to flexibly shift attentional focus between a cognitive and motor task than healthy older adults (HOA). Shifting attention is a component of executive function. Task switch tests assess executive attention function. This multivariate study asked if BIOAs demonstrate greater task switching deficits than HOAs. A group of 39 HOA (65-80 years) and BIOA (65-87 years) subjects performed a visuo-spatial task switch. A sub-group of subjects performed a dual-task obstacle avoidance paradigm. All participants completed the Berg Balance Scale (BBS) and Timed Up and Go (TUG). We assessed differences by group for: (1) visuo-spatial task switch reaction times (switch/no-switch), and performance on the BBS and TUG. Our balance groups differed significantly on BBS score (p<.001) and switch reaction time (p=.032), but not the TUG. This confirmed our hypothesis that neuromuscular and executive attention function differs between these two groups. For our BIOA sub-group, gait velocity correlated negatively with performance on the switch condition (p=.036). This suggests that BIOA efficiency of attentional allocation in dual task settings should be further explored.
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