We can go for a run and listen to music through headphones or eat and watch TV at the same time. However, when the two activities that we perform at the same time are “active”For example, answering a phone call while taking notes in an agenda, things are not that simple and we may end up writing one thing while thinking about another. Scientific research has shown that our brain is not that good at handling multiple tasks as we like to think it is.
Until now, science considered that being unable to multitask is a sign of mental decline (or “cognitive”) from the age of 65. But a new study published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity shows that this ability to “multitask” begins to decline in middle age, that is, 10 years earlier. Even so, the most revealing of this work is the conclusion they reach: having trouble walking and talking or thinking at the same time is a warning sign of impending dementia. In fact, the researchers are convinced that this finding could prompt earlier screening tests.
“The ability to keep walking while performing another task, a common situation in daily life, begins to decline in the mid-sixth decade of life,” says Junhong Zhou, the study’s principal investigator and associate scientist at the Hinda Institute. and Arthur Marcus of Harvard Medical School Research on Aging, in Boston. To carry out this extensive work, collected and studied data from almost 1,000 people in Spain who participated in the Barcelona Brain Health Initiative between May 2018 and July 2020. Of these, more than 600 were tested for their ability to walk and think at the same time.
The study reveals that the decline in our ability to perform a dual gait can cause falls and injuries. Zhou says this is closely related to the ability to think and the underlying brain function. “This result would be a marker of brain health“, indicates and, in turn, could be a solution: “Performing interventions aimed at cognitive function could help preserve and improve dual gait, reducing the risk of dementia in later stages of life,” said the scientist.
The brain’s ability to multitask is declining sooner than we thought
The capacity of performing two tasks at the same time while walking decreases at age 55, up to a decade before what is traditionally defined as “old age,” according to the study. The researchers described their research as the first to characterize the links between age, dual-task walking, and mental function in healthy middle-aged adults. “Older adults tend to concentrate more on a task, and the prioritization of tasks depends mainly on their importance; For example, in dual-task gait, they can focus more on gait maintenance so they don’t fall down,” he said.
There are many factors contributing to decreased ability to perform two tasks, and most are related to brain health, Zhou noted. Studies have shown that, as age advances, the connections between neurons in the brain decrease, which affects its effectiveness, especially in the brain regions involved in attention and information processing. “These types of age-related alterations in neural activities are associated with a decline in brain function, which is a major contributor to this decline in the ability to multitask,” Zhou says.
For the study, Zhou and his colleagues collected data from almost 1,000 people in Spain and more than 600 were tested for their ability to walk and think at the same time. Zhou said that “older people had worse dual-task walking performance, suggesting that underlying cognitive function and/or brain health contributed significantly to the variance.” In conclusion, studies have shown that people with a greater inability to do two things at once have a significantly higher risk of developing dementia.