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Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2006 Jan;14(1):52-61.

Adaptive task prioritization in aging: selective resource allocation to postural control is preserved in Alzheimer disease.

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Center for Lifespan Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany.



With age, the performance of multiple tasks decreases, a pattern exaggerated in Alzheimer disease (AD). At the same time, recent research, based on adaptive theories of healthy aging, indicates a preference of older adults to allocate resources toward tasks of higher immediate value (e.g., postural control). This study investigated whether such models also hold for pathologic cognitive aging.


Using a dual-task paradigm, the authors combined a working memory with a postural control task under easy and difficult conditions in patients with AD, older adults, older adults low on performance on a cognitive marker test, and young adults (N = 40). Participants repeatedly performed a cognitive and a postural control task both simultaneously and in isolation over the course of eight sessions.


Consistent with earlier studies on divided attention in age and AD, the authors found large dual-task performance decrements with age and more so in AD. When not challenged, patients with AD showed large performance decrements under dual-task conditions in both postural control and working memory. With increasing difficulty in the postural control task, however, older adults, and more so patients with AD, maintained a high level of functioning in postural control, as compared with working memory.


The findings indicate that the theory of selective optimization with compensation extends to pathologic aging and have broad implications for models of dual-task performance and executive control in aging and AD.

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