The aging brain shows less flexible reallocation of cognitive resources during dual-task walking: A mobile brain/body imaging (MoBI) study

Brenda R. Malcolm, John J. Foxe, John S. Butler, Pierfilippo De Sanctis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Aging is associated with reduced abilities to selectively allocate attention across multiple domains. This may be particularly problematic during everyday multitasking situations when cognitively demanding tasks are performed while walking. Due to previous limitations in neuroimaging technology, much remains unknown about the cortical mechanisms underlying resource allocation during locomotion. Here, we utilized an EEG-based mobile brain/body imaging (MoBI) technique that integrates high-density event-related potential (ERP) recordings with simultaneously acquired foot-force sensor data to monitor gait patterns and brain activity concurrently. To assess effects of motor load on cognition we evaluated young (N. =. 17; mean age. =. 27.2) and older adults (N. =. 16; mean age. =. 63.9) and compared behavioral and ERP measures associated with performing a Go/No-Go response inhibition task as participants sat stationary or walked on a treadmill. Stride time and variability were also measured during task performance and compared to stride parameters obtained without task performance, thereby assessing effects of cognitive load on gait. Results showed that older, but not young adults' accuracy dropped significantly when performing the inhibitory task while walking. Young adults revealed ERP modulations at relatively early (N2 amplitude reduction) and later (earlier P3 latency) stages within the processing stream as motor load increased while walking. In contrast, older adults' ERP modulations were limited to later processing stages (increased P3 amplitude) of the inhibitory network. The relative delay and attenuation of ERP modulations accompanied by behavioral costs in older participants might indicate an age-associated loss in flexible resource allocation across multiple tasks. Better understanding of the neural underpinnings of these age-related changes may lead to improved strategies to reduce fall risk and enhance mobility in aging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)230-242
Number of pages13
StatePublished - Aug 5 2015


  • Cognitive aging
  • Dual-task design
  • EEG
  • Event-related potentials
  • Gait
  • Inhibitory control
  • Mobile brain/body imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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