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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

February 2016, Vol. 28, No. 2, Pages 275-281
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00897)
© 2015 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Reduction of Dual-task Costs by Noninvasive Modulation of Prefrontal Activity in Healthy Elders
Article PDF (357.46 KB)

Dual tasking (e.g., walking or standing while performing a cognitive task) disrupts performance in one or both tasks, and such dual-task costs increase with aging into senescence. Dual tasking activates a network of brain regions including pFC. We therefore hypothesized that facilitation of prefrontal cortical activity via transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) would reduce dual-task costs in older adults. Thirty-seven healthy older adults completed two visits during which dual tasking was assessed before and after 20 min of real or sham tDCS targeting the left pFC. Trials of single-task standing, walking, and verbalized serial subtractions were completed, along with dual-task trials of standing or walking while performing serial subtractions. Dual-task costs were calculated as the percent change in markers of gait and postural control and serial subtraction performance, from single to dual tasking. Significant dual-task costs to standing, walking, and serial subtraction performance were observed before tDCS (p < .01). These dual-task costs were less after real tDCS as compared with sham tDCS as well as compared with either pre-tDCS condition (p < .03). Further analyses indicated that tDCS did not alter single task performance but instead improved performance solely within dual-task conditions (p < .02). These results demonstrate that dual tasking can be improved by modulating prefrontal activity, thus indicating that dual-task decrements are modifiable and may not necessarily reflect an obligatory consequence of aging. Moreover, tDCS may ultimately serve as a novel approach to preserving dual-task capacity into senescence.