Older adults can improve movement by using same motor strategy as babies

June 16, 2017
A younger person places her forearm on a sensor below an opaque cover to demonstrate the experiment. She uses the movements of her forearm to control a cursor displayed on a computer screen (right), trying to keep it in the target zone. Credit: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

A motor mechanism that has been attributed primarily to early development in babies and toddlers can also help older adults improve movement accuracy, according to new research from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).

In an article published this week in Scientific Reports, the researcher shows that an infant's exploration-exploitation process can work in older , as well.

"In , babies seem to make random movements in all directions until they learn to purposefully reach for objects," says Dr. Shelly Levy-Tzedek, a lecturer in the BGU Department of Physiotherapy, Leon and Matilda Recanati School for Community Health Professions. "Their movements are variable until they find a solution for the problem at hand, like reaching for that Cheerios bit. When they find a good movement plan, they exploit it."

In the study, the arms of older adults (ages 70+) were connected to a sensor that measures the rotation of the arm at the elbow. Participants were then asked to make of the forearm in a "windshield wiper" motion while trying to maintain certain speeds and arm amplitude, with and without visual feedback.

At first "their movements were too slow and too small," says Dr. Levy-Tzedek, who is also head of BGU's Cognition, Aging and Rehabilitation Lab and a member of the University's ABC Robotics Initiative. "We then encouraged them to make movements that were larger and faster, and their performance on the original task improved significantly." 

The researchers hypothesized that older participants would not be able to maintain an increase in speed and amplitude of movement over time due to fatigue, but were surprised to discover that making mistakes helped improve future task performance. They also found that once a better movement pattern was established, the variability dropped. Making exaggerated movements actually helped them fine-tune their control.

"We haven't tested it directly in physical therapy, but perhaps getting to make exaggerated movements can help fine-tune their performance on specific tasks that they find difficult to accomplish otherwise," says Dr. Levy-Tzedek.

Explore further: Simple test can help detect Alzheimer's before dementia signs show

More information: S. Levy-Tzedek, Motor errors lead to enhanced performance in older adults, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-03430-4

Related Stories

Simple test can help detect Alzheimer's before dementia signs show

September 19, 2014
York University researchers say a simple test that combines thinking and movement can help to detect heightened risk for developing Alzheimer's disease in a person, even before there are any telltale behavioural signs of ...

Fetal movement proven essential for neuron development in rats

November 15, 2016
A newborn rat's brain development stage is close to that of a human embryo in the second half of pregnancy, which allows suggests that similar movement patterns can help neuron development in humans. The research was published ...

Understanding the intermittencies that lurk in smooth movements

December 29, 2015
Apparently smooth continuous movements to trace moving objects harbour jerks. These jerks are absent when there is no object to be traced and so are thought to stem from changes in motor instructions anticipated and fed forward ...

Motor behaviour—understanding the jerks that lurk in smooth movements

September 24, 2015
Apparently smooth continuous movements to trace moving objects harbour jerks. These jerks are absent when there is no object to be traced and so are thought to stem from changes in motor instructions anticipated and fed forward ...

Motor skills research nets good news for middle-aged

April 5, 2013
People in their 20s don't have much on their middle-aged counterparts when it comes to some fine motor movements, researchers from UT Arlington have found.

Recommended for you

Researchers create tool to measure, control protein aggregation

October 22, 2017
A common thread ties seemingly unlinked disorders like Alzheimer's disease and type II diabetes together. This thread is known as protein aggregation and happens when proteins clump together. These complexes are a hallmark ...

Want to control your dreams? Here's how

October 19, 2017
New research at the University of Adelaide has found that a specific combination of techniques will increase people's chances of having lucid dreams, in which the dreamer is aware they're dreaming while it's still happening ...

Researchers find shifting relationship between flexibility, modularity in the brain

October 19, 2017
A new study by Rice University researchers takes a step toward what they see as key to the advance of neuroscience: a better understanding of the relationship between the brain's flexibility and its modularity.

Brain training can improve our understanding of speech in noisy places

October 19, 2017
For many people with hearing challenges, trying to follow a conversation in a crowded restaurant or other noisy venue is a major struggle, even with hearing aids. Now researchers reporting in Current Biology on October 19th ...

Investigating the most common genetic contributor to Parkinson's disease

October 19, 2017
LRRK2 gene mutations are the most common genetic cause of Parkinson's disease (PD), but the normal physiological role of this gene in the brain remains unclear. In a paper published in Neuron, Brigham and Women's Hospital ...

New procedure enables cultivation of human brain sections in the petri dish

October 19, 2017
Researchers at the University of Tübingen have become the first to keep human brain tissue alive outside the body for several weeks. The researchers, headed by Dr. Niklas Schwarz, Dr. Henner Koch and Dr. Thomas Wuttke at ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.