Balance and Dual Task in Older Adults

Approximately 30% of individuals over age 65 experience one or more falls each year.  The situations in which these falls happen are often when individuals are cognitively taxed.  In real-life situations, it is rare that we are ever only walking, standing or changing positions while solely focusing on the task at hand.  We enjoy walking or carrying out other activities as we talk with friends, think about what we are having for dinner that night, or simply multi-tasking.  These may seem like simple tasks, however as we age our brain capacity changes and it becomes more challenging to multi-task.  In older individuals who already have reduced balance reactions, this extra cognitive load makes it more challenging for our brain and body to maintain stability during challenging motor tasks.

 

The good news is that this phenomenon can be trained.  Dual task training in the physical therapy realm is a valuable tool that can be used for individuals with balance deficits.  It is comprised of a balance task accompanied by another cognitive challenge, such as standing on an uneven surface while counting backwards out loud from 100.  Another example would be negotiating obstacles while naming items of a specific category.  Commonly, when a cognitive task is added to balance training we see a decline in the person’s balance ability due to the added challenge.  They may be more unsteady on their feet or be more likely to lose their balance, as well as compensating by ambulating at a reduced speed.  On the other hand, if a person prioritizes the balance task at hand they may truly struggle with their ability to carry out the cognitive task, even though it would have been minimally challenging if it were done alone.  This shows that the aging brain struggles with dual task activities and needs to be trained.

 

These dual task activities challenge your brain in a way that simulates real life situations where you are maintaining your balance while carrying out a cognitive task.  Over time, the pathways in our brain that control these skills become more efficient and our ability to maintain balance during a cognitive task improves.  If you or a loved one have balance deficits or a history of falling, call one of our offices or stop in to speak with a physical therapist about how we can help and begin your balance training with dual task challenges!

Posted in: Physical Therapy

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New Jersey Top Doctor 2017
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Monmouth Health and Life Magazine Reader's Choice Award 2016 Winner
Monmouth Health and Life Magazine Reader's Choice Award 2015 Winner
Monmouth Health and Life Magazine Reader's Choice Award 2016 Winner