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Multi-tasking Seniors Put Themselves at Risk When Crossing Street


According to a new study, multi-tasking seniors may put themselves at risk while crossing the street and using the cell phone at the same time.

The study from University of Illinois researchers has been published online in the journal Psychology and Aging.

It is well known that distracted driving is a serious and potentially deadly danger. Distracted driving comes in various forms, such as cell phone use, texting while driving, eating, drinking, talking with passengers, as well as using in-vehicle technologies and portable electronic devices.

This new study looks at whether similar multi-tasking (listening to music or conversing on a hands-free cell phone) can be distracting enough to put pedestrians at risk when crossing a street.

In the study, 18 undergraduate students (aged 18 to 26 years) and 18 older adults(aged 59 to 81) crossed simulated streets of varying difficulty while either undistracted, listening to music or conversing on a hands-free cell phone.

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The researchers found the younger adults showed no impairment on dual-task performance, but the older adults were significantly impaired on the most challenging street-crossing tasks while also engaged in a second activity.

The researchers noted the seniors incurred the most pronounced impairment when attempting to cross a street and carry on a cell phone conversation. The seniors on cell phones failed to cross the street in the time allotted.

"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.

Even though this is a small study, there is previous research (both with pedestrians and drivers) to suggest all pedestrians should exercise caution when attempting to cross a street while conversing on a cell phone.

“This is particularly true for older adults," Neider said.

Walking and talking: Dual-task effects on street crossing behavior in older adults; Neider, Mark B., Gaspar, John G., McCarley, Jason S., Crowell, James A., Kaczmarski, Henry, Kramer, Arthur F.; Psychology and Aging, Mar 14, 2011; doi: 10.1037/a0021566