Objectives: Among older adults (OA), hearing loss is associated with an increased risk for falls. The aim of the present study was to experimentally investigate the cognitive compensation hypothesis, wherein decreased auditory and motor functioning are compensated by the recruitment of cognitive resources.
Method: Twenty-nine younger adults (YA), 26 OA, and 32 OA with age-related hearing loss (ARHL) completed a dual-task paradigm consisting of cognitive and balance recovery tasks performed singly and concurrently. The auditory stimuli were presented with or without background noise.
Results: Both older adult groups performed significantly worse than YA on the cognitive task in noisy conditions and ARHL also demonstrated disproportionate negative effects of dual-tasking and noise. The kinematic data indicated that OA and ARHL demonstrated greater plantarflexion when compared with YA. Conversely, YA showed greater hip extension in response to dual-tasking.
Discussion: The cognitive and balance results suggest that YA were able to flexibly allocate their attention between tasks, whereas ARHL exhibited prioritization of posture over cognitive performance.