Ever heard the expression « bet you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? » I am not sure I really appreciated the full extent of its meaning until just last week.
At the 3rd International Congress on Gait and Mental Function in Washington DC in February, a series of new research studies were unveiled. One such study, described by Prof. Jeffrey M. Hausdorff , Director of Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, was on the topic of dual-tasking while waking. That is, walking and doing one other thing at the same time – like talking, observing the trees and flowers or other tasks that require a little attention.
Turns out that there’s a strong correlation between our executive function skills and our ability to dual task while walking. Prof. Hausdorff went on to describe how deficits in this cognitive function that are experienced by elderly people, and certainly those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, can be a significant contributor to falls. Falls are a well known source of further disability issues and general decline with the elderly.
Now while I was pondering this new information on the role of focused attention and problem solving in dual tasking, I got a call from a friend and I began to describe this new insight. “Wow” was her response. “That’s really interesting. I can ballroom dance, because when I’m dancing, I’m thinking about what my body is doing. But when I’m walking down the street, I’m not thinking about walking down the street – I’m thinking about what I need to work on, what I’m going to buy or what I’m going to make for dinner and OUCH! what was that I just banged into?”
Prof. Hausdorff has a strong hypotheses that brain training to strengthen focused attention and executive function will result in better regular walking abilities and improved ability to dual task, and ultimately contribute to reduced falls in the elderly. This makes logical sense. This research topic could have very practical impact in reducing hospitalization for falls and help to keep health care costs down for elderly citizens. We’ll look forward to more research evidence. In the meantime, the Aging Well Program of Cognitive Training may help senior citizens with challenges in this area.