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  1. Wellmon, Robert PT, PhD, NCS


Background and Purpose. Walking has been shown to be an attentionally demanding task. For older adults, gender-specific differences in gait and falling reported in the literature could arise as a result of the attentional demands of walking. However, differences in how older men and women allocate attention to walking have not been investigated. The purpose of this study was to use a dual-task voice reaction time paradigm to examine gender-specific differences in the attentional demands of walking in older adults who are independent in community ambulation.


Methods. A dual-task paradigm was used to measure voice reaction time (VRT) in older community-dwelling men (n = 29; mean age = 78.40, SD = 6.17 years) and women (n = 33; mean age = 77.01, SD = 6.07 years) under 3 task conditions: sitting in a chair, standing, and walking on a level surface. Between- and within-group differences in dual-task VRT were examined using a 2 (men vs women) by 3 (task condition) repeated-measures analysis of variance. The level of statistical significance was set at 0.05, and a Bonferroni procedure was used for post hoc analyses.


Results. Sitting VRT was similar for men (mean = 454.90, SD = 140.05 milliseconds) and women (mean = 454.49, SD = 94.27 milliseconds). While standing, men had a slightly faster VRT (mean = 444.90, SD = 125.31 milliseconds vs mean = 452.09, SD = 92.82 milliseconds). When walking, VRT increased for both groups in comparison to sitting and standing and older men (mean = 509.11, SD = 142.19 milliseconds) responded faster than older women (mean = 537.55, SD = 122.43). However, the main effect of gender (P = .665) and interaction of gender with task (P = .433) were both not statistically significant. A statistically significant main effect for task (P < .001) indicated that walking VRT (mean = 524.25, SD = 131.71 milliseconds) was significantly longer than both sitting (P < .001, mean = 454.68, SD = 116.89 milliseconds) and standing (P < .001, mean = 448.36, SD = 108.37 milliseconds) VRT.


Discussion. The results demonstrate that the attentional demands of walking are not different for older adult men and women who are independent in community mobility. However, support was provided for the idea that walking is an attentionally demanding activity. In comparison with sitting and standing, walking was more attentionally demanding for both men and women.


Conclusions. A dual-task voice reaction time paradigm revealed that walking is not more attentionally demanding on the basis of gender when comparing community-dwelling older adult men with women.