Multitasking Becomes More Difficult with Age

New research shows that older people have more difficulty multi-tasking than younger people. The results were gathered from a study that required people between the ages of 59 and 81 to talk on a cell phone while crossing a virtual street. The older participants were less successful at completing the task and they took nearly 30 seconds longer than their younger counterparts.

Jonathan King, program director of the National Institute on Aging’s division of behavioral and social research, said the study was novel because not many “attempt to get the nuts and bolts of everyday functioning like this.” In addition, it was found that older adults took longer to begin walking, or did not cross the street at all during the 30 second allotted time period.

“Older adults were much more likely to time out than younger adults, and that pattern was strongest when they were talking on a cell phone,” says Mark B. Neider, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign’s Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. Neider explains that older adults are more susceptible to “cognitive interference” as opposed to using excessive cautionary measures. He surmises that performing multiple tasks delays and slows the mental processing needed to determine depth perception and the relative speed of the approaching traffic.

Although multi-tasking of any kind can poses a heightened risk to anyone, Neider says “Everybody needs to be careful, but older adults should probably be even more cautious if they’re going to engage in this sort of activity.” Neider went on to say that conducting future studies will provide additional information on how cognitive mechanisms affect decision-making in older adults while they perform multiple functions.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Harold Nilsen

    Harold Nilsen

    March 20th, 2011 at 7:12 PM

    Does this study give anything that we did not know before? Well maybe there is something from this that may let them deduce some other thing but I find studies like this a little unnecessary. We know what the results are going to be, so why conduct the study at all…?

  • Christine


    March 21st, 2011 at 4:36 AM

    You are telling me! I used to be able to manage three or four different projects at once but now I have to make a list to make sure that everything that needs to be done in the day gets addressed. It is depressing getting older sometimes.

  • joel


    March 21st, 2011 at 5:01 AM

    I understand what you say Harold but it also gives us an opportunity to study and understand the nuances of why it happens.After all,just knowing something is not enough.Knowing why and how is also important for a deeper understanding.

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