"What's important here is, people generally think of walking as an automatic activity," he said. "When you start to introduce competing tasks, we know both young and older people [don't do as well]."
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."
King said the fact that seniors often "timed out" and failed to cross the street in the 30 seconds allotted is actually a good sign.
"That's important because it suggests some degree of safety monitoring in these older adults to know what's going on," he said. "Multitasking is a skill that definitely seems to be impacted more by aging than other skills. So I think that's at the heart of it."
Neider said future research will examine the reasons older people need more time to step off the curb, along with other cognitive mechanisms that influence their decision-making in multitasking situations.
"Everyone needs to exercise some caution when they try to do this," he said. "Older adults should probably exercise even more."
Learn more about cell phone safety at the National Consumer Advocacy Commission.
SOURCES: Mark Neider, Ph.D., postdoctoral associate, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Jonathan King, Ph.D., program director, division of behavioral and social research, National Institute on Aging; March 16, 2011, Psychology and Aging
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