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J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2018 May 9;73(6):792-797. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glx210.

Mental Fatigue Increases Gait Variability During Dual-task Walking in Old Adults.

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Institute of Sport Science, University of Rostock, Germany.
Department of Orthopaedics, University Medicine Rostock, Germany.
Department of Psychology, University of Greifswald, Germany.
Roland-Klinik am Werdersee, Bremen, Germany.



Mental fatigue is a psychobiological state induced by sustained periods of demanding cognitive activity and is characterized by feelings of tiredness which are common in everyday life. Recently, it has been hypothesized that mental fatigue might have an impact on gait performance in old adults. Therefore, the effect of mental fatigue on gait performance under single- and dual-task conditions was investigated in young and old participants.


Spatio-temporal gait parameters of 16 young and 16 old healthy participants were measured using a photoelectric system during single- and dual-task walking before and after a randomly assigned mental fatigue (performing a stop-signal task for 90 minutes) and control intervention (watching a video for 90 minutes), respectively. Changes in subjective fatigue, wakefulness, mood, arousal, and psychophysiological workload (heart rate variability indices) were assessed.


Psychometric measures indicated increased subjective fatigue and arousal as well as decreased mood and wakefulness after the mental fatigue task. Heart rate variability indices revealed a higher psychophysiological workload during the mental fatigue intervention in old compared to young participants. Gait measures (coefficient of variation of speed, stride length, and stance time) revealed impaired dual-task walking performance following the mental fatigue intervention only in old participants.


Data indicate that mental fatigue, induced by sustained cognitive activity, can impair gait performance during dual-task walking in old adults. The susceptibility to mental fatigue could be a new intrinsic risk factor for falls in older people and should be taken into account when dual-task gait analyses are performed.


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