Cognitive resources contribute to balance control. There is evidence that mental fatigue reduces cognitive resources and impairs balance performance, particularly in older adults and when balance tasks are complex, for example when trying to walk or stand while concurrently performing a secondary cognitive task.
We conducted a systematic literature search in PubMed (MEDLINE), Web of Science and Google Scholar to identify eligible studies and performed a random effects meta-analysis to quantify the effects of experimentally induced mental fatigue on balance performance in healthy adults. Subgroup analyses were computed for age (healthy young vs. healthy older adults) and balance task complexity (balance tasks with high complexity vs. balance tasks with low complexity) to examine the moderating effects of these factors on fatigue-mediated balance performance.
We identified 7 eligible studies with 9 study groups and 206 participants. Analysis revealed that performing a prolonged cognitive task had a small but significant effect (SMDwm = −0.38) on subsequent balance performance in healthy young and older adults. However, age- and task-related differences in balance responses to fatigue could not be confirmed statistically.
Overall, aggregation of the available literature indicates that mental fatigue generally reduces balance in healthy adults. However, interactions between cognitive resource reduction, aging and balance task complexity remain elusive.