Multitasking: the ability to perform two or more tasks simultaneously without compromising on accuracy or promptness. We think we do it on daily basis, but it’s not totally clear whether humans are truly capable of engaging in more that two tasks successfully.
Sometimes, the difficulty of the tasks exceed our abilities and we fail. When this happens, it is the result of interference between the tasks that overwhelms our cognitive ability, and it demonstrates the imperfect nature of the human brain as an information-processing system.
Most activities require dual-tasking, or divided attention between posture and cognition. With age, multitasking becomes more challenging and the risk of fall increases proportionally. Multitasking studies are helpful for understanding cognitive ability, but they are also crucial to identifying people with a higher risk of falling. Falls are one of the commonest issues the elderly have to face, and are the highest injury-related cause of death in the elderly. Short of this extreme, these sorts of injuries can still result in considerable degradation of quality of life. Falls are also more likely to have a worse impact with age, resulting, for instance, in hip fractures or cranial traumas with long recovery times.
With ageing, the importance given to balance and gait by our brain diminishes, resulting in more hazardous behaviour that may lead to falls. For instance, if tasks are demanding enough, older people lose the centre of pressure in their gait more readily than younger subjects. That fact is related to the fact that postural control depends on the difficulty, type and specificity of the cognitive task. In other words, postural control and balance may be impaired if the task being performed is sufficiently complex and demanding.
So, what is it like getting old, seeing our cognitive ability decreasing, and having to face the real world like a young man in his twenties? Shall we all be start to care more about our elderly and modify our streets and buildings to more elderly-friendly versions? Or are the hip replacement health costs not high enough yet for it to become politically important?