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Differences in dual-task performance and prefrontal cortex activation between younger and older adults

DOI: 10.1186/1471-2202-14-10

Keywords: Dual-task , Near-infrared spectroscopy , Executive function , Attentional function

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Abstract:

Background The purpose of this study was to examine task-related changes in prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity during a dual-task in both healthy young and older adults and compare patterns of activation between the age groups. We also sought to determine whether brain activation during a dual-task relates to executive/attentional function and how measured factors associated with both of these functions vary between older and younger adults. Results Thirty-five healthy volunteers (20 young and 15 elderly) participated in this study. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) was employed to measure PFC activation during a single-task (performing calculations or stepping) and dual-task (performing both single-tasks at once). Cognitive function was assessed in the older patients with the Trail-making test part B (TMT-B). Major outcomes were task performance, brain activation during task (oxygenated haemoglobin: Oxy-Hb) measured by NIRS, and TMT-B score. Mixed ANOVAs were used to compare task factors and age groups in task performance. Mixed ANOVAs also compared task factors, age group and time factors in task-induced changes in measured Oxy-Hb. Among the older participants, correlations between the TMT-B score and Oxy-Hb values measured in each single-task and in the dual-task were examined using a Pearson correlation coefficient. Oxy-Hb values were significantly increased in both the calculation task and the dual-task within patients in both age groups. However, the Oxy-Hb values associated with there were higher in the older group during the post-task period for the dual-task. Also, there were significant negative correlations between both task-performance accuracy and Oxy-Hb values during the dual-task and participant TMT-B scores. Conclusions Older adults demonstrated age-specific PFC activation in response to dual-task challenge. There was also a significant negative correlation between PFC activation during dual-task and executive/attentional function. These findings suggest that the high cognitive load induced by dual-task activity generates increased PFC activity in older adults. However, this relationship appeared to be strongest in participants with better baseline attention and executive functions.

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