The aging brain: Movement speed and spatial control

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Abstract

Background/Objectives: With aging, people commonly develop motor slowing (bradykinesia). Although this slowness with aging may be entirely related to degradation of the cerebral networks important in motor programing, it is possible that, at least in part, it may be a learned procedure for enhancing the accuracy and/or precision of movements. The goal of this study is to test these contradictory hypotheses. Methods: Twenty-four healthy adults, 12 younger than age 26 and 12 older than age 65 were asked to make alternative marks with a pen between a card centered in front of them and a series of circles distributed across a page. Performance was timed, and participants were instructed to complete the task as quickly as possible while not sacrificing accuracy for speed. The circle sizes and hand used varied by trial. Results: The older adults performed the task more slowly for all target circle diameters. As the circles decreased in size, the younger adults performed the task more rapidly than did the older participants, but the younger participants also had a greater decline in accuracy. Conclusions: During this aiming task, healthy older adults were less likely than younger adults to sacrifice accuracy for speed. Thus, at least in part, their slowing may be a learned adaptive strategy.

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