The contribution of postural control and bilateral coordination to the impact of dual tasking on gait.
The simultaneous performance of a cognitive task while walking typically alters the gait pattern. In some populations, these alterations have been associated with an increased risk of falls, motivating study of this response from the clinical perspective. The mechanisms responsible for these effects are not fully understood. The concurrent requirement to control upright posture and stepping, a bilaterally coordinated rhythmic task, may be the cause of this so-called dual-tasking effect. To evaluate this possibility, the present study was designed to isolate the individual contribution of these two demands by assessing the effects of cognitive loading on standing (i.e., postural control without bilateral coordination of stepping), cycling (i.e., bilateral coordination similar to stepping, but with minimal postural demands), and walking. We also investigated the effects of aging and parkinsonism on the performance of these three tasks in response to cognitive loading, also referred to as a dual task. Twenty-one healthy young adults, 15 healthy older adults, and 18 patients with Parkinsons disease were assessed while walking, standing, and cycling, with and without an additional cognitive load. In the young adults, the performance on the two motor tasks that involved bilateral coordination deteriorated significantly in response to the dual task, while standing was not impacted. Similar results, although less robust, were observed among the healthy older adults. In contrast, among the patients with Parkinsons disease, the dual-task costs, i.e., the impact of the simultaneously performed cognitive task on the gait pattern, were high in all motor tasks. These findings suggest that walking is especially vulnerable to cognitive loading, in part, because of the unique sensitivity of bilateral coordination of limb movements to the effects of dual tasking.