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Maintaining Balance and Listening at Same Time May Become More Difficult for Older Adults

Listening to a conversation or audio book while walking or exercising sounds simple enough for most people, but it may become more difficult for people in their upper 70s and above, according to new research from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Researchers evaluated how well three groups of adults-healthy young (ages 24-27), old (ages 65-71), and "old-old" (ages 76-82 years)-were able to conduct a listening exercise while their visual and balance systems were kept busy. Seated in swivel chairs that were either upright or at a 30-degree tilt, the volunteers performed two listening-related tasks while motionless or spinning in darkness or in light. In one task, they listened to a high- or low-pitch tone and pressed a button in their right or left hand depending on the pitch. In the second task, volunteers listened to tones in their right or left ears and pressed the corresponding button.

The researchers found that, in general, all age groups reacted more slowly to the audio cues when spinning than when motionless. However, this was especially true for people in the oldest age group. They also found that stimulation of the ear's gravity-sensing organs-through the 30-degree tilt of the chair-was especially powerful in slowing down a person's auditory reaction time. Again, this effect was most pronounced for people in the oldest age group.

Scientists supported by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one of the National Institutes of Health, presented their research findings at the 2009 Midwinter Meeting of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) in Baltimore.

The National Institute on Aging also supported this research.

Adapted from materials provided by the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders www.nidcd.nih.gov

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