Cognitive involvement in balance, gait and dual-tasking in aging: A focused review from a neuroscience of aging perspective

Karen Z.H. Li*, Louis Bherer, Anat Mirelman, Inbal Maidan, Jeffrey M. Hausdorff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


A substantial corpus of evidence suggests that the cognitive involvement in postural control and gait increases with aging. A large portion of such studies were based on dual-task experimental designs, which typically use the simultaneous performance of a motor task (e.g., static or dynamic balancing, walking) and a continuous cognitive task (e.g., mental arithmetic, tone detection). This focused review takes a cognitive neuroscience of aging perspective in interpreting cognitive motor dual-task findings. Specifically, we consider the importance of identifying the neural circuits that are engaged by the cognitive task in relation to those that are engaged during motor task performance. Following the principle of neural overlap, dual-task interference should be greatest when the cognitive and motor tasks engage the same neural circuits. Moreover, the literature on brain aging in general, and models of dedifferentiation and compensation, in particular, suggest that in cognitive motor dual-task performance, the cognitive task engages different neural substrates in young as compared to older adults. Also considered is the concept of multisensory aging, and the degree to which the age-related decline of other systems (e.g., vision, hearing) contribute to cognitive load. Finally, we discuss recent work on focused cognitive training, exercise and multimodal training of older adults and their effects on postural and gait outcomes. In keeping with the principle of neural overlap, the available cognitive training research suggests that targeting processes such as dividing attention and inhibition lead to improved balance and gait in older adults. However, more studies are needed that include functional neuroimaging during actual, upright performance of gait and balance tasks, in order to directly test the principle of neural overlap, and to better optimize the design of intervention studies to improve gait and posture.

Original languageEnglish
Article number913
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
Issue numberOCT
StatePublished - 29 Oct 2018


  • Aging
  • Balance
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive training
  • Dual task
  • Gait
  • Motor-cognitive interference


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