Characterization of dual-task performance in the elderly


The prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), a chronic neurodegenerative disorder, is expected to double in the next generation to over 1,000,000 Canadians, with costs reaching $153 billion annually. Despite concentrated research efforts to develop better therapeutic agents for the treatment of AD, there are currently no effective interventions. One factor that may be contributing to the lack of progress in this field is the lack of sensitive screening tools that can be used to detect mild cognitive impairment. Such screening tools could help with earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease, as studies show pharmaceutical and behavioural treatment interventions delivered early on in the course of the disease are more likely to be effective.


In this study, a novel “dual-task” test developed by the research UW team to compare changes in the cognitive function of concussed and non-concussed athletes was assessed for its sensitivity for use with a different population. The dual-task challenges the visual spatial working memory system because it is performed simultaneously with an auditory tone discrimination task, thus, providing a more sensitive way to assess mild cognitive impairment. Eye movements recorded during task performance provide insight into executive functions of the brain, which are impacted at the early stage of Alzheimer’s Disease. With the long-term goal of detecting age-related changes in cognitive functioning in older adults, this study began the process of gathering data in a cognitive database. The database compiles patterns of normal performance across the lifespan, thereby establishing a basis of comparison.

Summary of findings

Previous study findings on concussed and non-concussed athletes showed that there was a “performance cost” under cognitively challenging conditions. This cost was significantly greater in individuals previously diagnosed with concussions. In this phase of the study, young adults were assessed to help establish a baseline measure of cognitive performance for early in the lifespan. During the next phase, healthy older individuals (40-80 years old) will be assessed. The expectation is that there will likely be a cost in the performance in the older adults, and that this cost will be greater in individuals with mild cognitive impairment.

Project members: 
Undergraduate Fellow
Faculty Supervisor
Project start date:
August, 2016
Last updated: January 08, 2017