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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

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

Hironori Ohsugi1*, Shohei Ohgi1, Kenta Shigemori2 and Eric B Schneider3

Author Affiliations

1 Graduate School of Health Sciences, Seirei Christopher University, 3453 Mikatahara-Cho, Hamamatsu-City, Shizuoka, 433-8558, Japan

2 Department of healthcare, Kansai University of Health and welfare science, 3-11-1, Asahigaoka, Kashiwara-City, Osaka, 582-0026, Japan

3 Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research, 600 N. Wolfe St, Baltimore, MD, 21205, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:10  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-10

Published: 18 January 2013

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.

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