Date of Award

5-1-2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Health, Physical Education, and Recreation

First Advisor

Sydney Schaefer

Abstract

Background: The process of motor learning can decline with age, such that older adults tend to learn new motor skills at a slower rate and to a lesser degree than younger adults. The degree to which aging affects the generalization of motor learning, however, is unclear.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to test whether task-specific training on one functional motor task would 1) result in motor learning, and 2) generalize to two untrained tasks in older adults.

Methods: Twenty-one adults age 65 years and older participated in this study and were assigned to either a training group or a control group. The training group completed three days of training on a simulated feeding task with their non-dominant hand. The control group received no training. All participants were evaluated at pre-test and at post-test on the feeding task, as well as two other untrained functional upper extremity motor tasks (simulated dressing and writing).

Results: The training group significantly improved feeding task performance from pre-test to post-test, whereas the control group did not. These improvements due to motor learning did not, however, generalize to the two untrained tasks, as neither the training nor control group showed any improvement on the simulated dressing or writing tasks from pre-test to post-test.

Conclusions: These results suggest that, unlike younger adult samples in our previous studies, older adults may not generalize learned information across functionally distinct tasks. Thus, the process of generalization may be particularly susceptible to aging processes.

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