TUESDAY, March 15 (HealthDay News) -- Older adults would be wise to avoid chatting on cell phones while crossing the street, because new research indicates this combination more risky for that age group than for college students.
In laboratory simulations at the University of Illinois, 18 older adults aged 59 to 81 and 18 undergraduates aged 18 to 26 crossed streets of varying difficulty under three circumstances: undistracted, listening to music on an iPod, or talking on a hands-free cell phone.
Compared to the younger adults, the older group had far more difficulty crossing when walking while distracted by another task, with the most pronounced impairment occurring during cell phone conversations.
The study is published in the March 16 issue of Psychology and Aging.
"If you asked us before the study if we would see a difference in age-related effects, we would have said it was highly likely," said study author Mark Neider, a postdoctoral associate at Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"Older adults showed lots of dual-task impairment," Neider added. "As we age, we aren't able to do these tasks together as well."
Previous research found younger adults showed similar performance detriments, Neider noted, but under much more challenging street-crossing conditions.
In this study, crossing difficulty was varied by changing the gap distance between simulated vehicles, with the smaller gap creating more challenging conditions. The "roadway" was comprised of two lanes of traffic, and all cars traveled at a speed of 33 miles per hour. Participants walked on a treadmill that was synchronized with three viewing screens and a floor.
Notably, older adults were much more likely to fail at crossing the road -- defined as either being hit by a car or failing to cross before a 30-sec
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