Objectives: To determine whether interference between postural control and mental task performance in patients with balance system impairment and healthy subjects is due to general capacity limitations, motor control interference, competition for spatial processing resources, or a combination of these.
Method: Postural stability was assessed in 48 patients with vestibular disorder and 24 healthy controls while they were standing with eyes closed on (a) a stable and (b) a moving platform. Mental task performance was measured by accuracy and reaction time on mental tasks, comprising high and low load, spatial and non-spatial tasks. Interference between balancing and performing mental tasks was assessed by comparing baseline (single task) levels of sway and mental task performance with levels while concurrently balancing and carrying out mental tasks.
Results: As the balancing task increased in difficulty, reaction times on both low load mental tasks grew progressively longer and accuracy on both high load tasks declined in patients and controls. Postural sway was essentially unaffected by mental activity in patients and controls.
Conclusions: It is unlikely that dual task interference between balancing and mental activity is due to competition for spatial processing resources, as levels of interference were similar in patients with vestibular disorder and healthy controls, and were also similar for spatial and nonspatial tasks. Moreover, the finding that accuracy declined on the high load tasks when balancing cannot be attributed to motor control interference, as no motor
control processing is involved in maintaining accuracy of responses. Therefore, interference between mental activity and postural control can be attributed principally to general capacity limitations, and is hence proportional to the attentional demands of both tasks.