Age-Related Changes of Postural Control: Effect of Cognitive Tasks Academic Article uri icon


  • Postural control and falls in the elderly constitute a major health problem. The interest in balance deficits is growing, as concern about the rising costs of health care increases. This issue is particularly relevant to the elderly population in which falls occur most frequently. Postural control in the elderly was studied using a cognitive approach. The purpose of this study was to study the characteristics of central processing of postural control while performing cognitive tasks. A dual-task procedure was developed to estimate the level of automaticity of a quiet upright standing task. The effect of a concurrent attention-demanding task (modified Stroop test) on the efficiency of balance control in the elderly was determined using force platform and electromyography measurements. It was found that there is an increase in postural sway in old subjects compared with young subjects when performing single tasks and dual-task tests. The results of the study demonstrate that postural adjustments require cognitive processing; young and old subjects showed similar interference effects on postural steadiness (postural sway) caused by the concurrent attention-demanding task. The results are corroborated by the hypothesis that a dual task gives information on the restoration of automaticity of postural control in old age by a central reorganization process. When performing a dual task tested on a narrow base of support, the old subjects decreased their body sway, while the younger did not. According to electromyography measurements, the older subjects increased their muscle activity in the tibialis anterior and soleus muscles, using slow-twitch motor units compared with the younger subjects. Both alterations (cognitive and base of support) have a substantially greater effect on the elderly than on the young. The older subjects decreased their body sway by activating a cocontraction strategy of postural control around the ankle joint, probably because of the danger to their postural stability.

publication date

  • January 1, 2001