Study: Multi-tasking on the street not a good idea for older people

Posted By News On March 16, 2011 - 4:30am
Study: Multi-tasking on the street not a good idea for older people

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Older adults may put themselves at risk by talking on cell phones while crossing the street, researchers report in a new study. The researchers found that adults aged 59 to 81 took significantly longer than college students to cross a simulated street while talking on a mobile phone, and their heightened cautiousness in initiating crossing did nothing to improve their safety. Older adults on cell phones also were more likely to fail to cross in the time allotted for the task.

The findings, from researchers at the University of Illinois, appear in the journal Psychology and Aging.

In the study, 18 undergraduate students (aged 18 to 26 years) and 18 older adults crossed simulated streets of varying difficulty while either undistracted, listening to music or conversing on a hands-free cell phone. The older adults were significantly impaired on the most challenging street-crossing tasks while also engaged in a second activity, with the most pronounced impairment occurring during cell phone conversations. The younger adults showed no impairment on dual-task performance, the researchers found.

University of Illinois Beckman Institute director Art Kramer led a study that found that older adults have more difficulty than their young peers negotiating a traffic crossing while also talking on a cell phone.

(Photo Credit: L. Brian Stauffer)

"It should be noted that we have previously found that younger adults show similar performance decrements, but under much more challenging crossing conditions," said lead author Mark Neider, a postdoctoral researcher who conducted the study with Illinois psychology professor and Beckman Institute director Art Kramer.

"Combined with our previous work, the current findings suggest that while all pedestrians should exercise caution when attempting to cross a street while conversing on a cell phone, older adults should be particularly careful," Neider said

Postdoctoral researcher and study co-author Mark Neider demonstrates the simulated street scene and multi-directional treadmill used in the study.

(Photo Credit: L. Brian Stauffer)

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