5:11pm

Wed March 16, 2011
Shots - Health Blog

Seniors Have Trouble Walking And Talking At The Same Time

If you're 60 or older, there's another health issue you might want to put on your worry list: crossing the street.

Now there are streets, particularly busy streets that we have to cross every day. And, if, like most Americans, you're doing "something else" while crossing, like listening to music on your iPod for example, or talking on your cell phone, you should be especially careful.

Researchers from the University of Illinois report that individuals over age 59 face an increased risk of injury when crossing busy complicated streets while multitasking. The study appears in the journal Psychology and Aging.

The study was small but provocative. Researchers compared 18 undergraduate students aged 18 to 26 years to 18 older adults aged 59 to 81 years during a simulated street crossing exercise.

Participants walked on a treadmill while watching three computer viewing screens which displayed a busy street between two large buildings. Participants were asked to cross the road as they would normally, at whatever speed they wanted without running.

After crossing the street, participants then walked through another alleyway and through a gate. Then, a new trial began and the participant had to cross another street. Participants crossed the virtual street in three ways: unencumbered, while listening to music on an iPod or while talking on a hands free cell phone.

Researchers found that the older adults were bad at navigating the most challenging busy streets, and it got worse if they were also talking on a cell phone. They were either more likely to be "hit" in a simulated car crash or unable to cross the street in the time allotted by researchers.

This may come as no surprise to those of us with teenagers, but the young participants crossed the streets swiftly and without incident.

Now we're certainly not advocating texting and driving, but the study showed the students had far fewer walking "collisions" and were almost always able to cross in the allotted time. They had no greater difficulty when multitasking, such as listening to music or talking on their phone.

The findings support earlier research which suggests older adults have difficulty multitasking. Other research finds cognitive control and the ability to take part in numerous activities at one time diminish with age.

So, what does this mean if you're over 60? You might want to slip the phone in your pocket for a little while and focus on getting safely to the other side. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.