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How Aging Affects Visuomotor Adaptation and Retention in a Precision Walking Paradigm

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Motor learning is a lifelong process. However, age-related changes to musculoskeletal and sensory systems alter the relationship (or mapping) between sensory input and motor output, and thus potentially affect motor learning. Here we asked whether age affects the ability to adapt to and retain a novel visuomotor mapping learned during overground walking. We divided participants into one of three groups (n = 12 each) based on chronological age: a younger-aged group (20–39 years old); a middle-aged group (40–59 years old); and an older-aged group (60–80 years old). Participants learned a new visuomotor mapping, induced by prism lenses, during a precision walking task. We assessed retention one-week later. We did not detect significant effects of age on measures of adaptation or savings (defined as faster relearning). However, we found that older adults demonstrated reduced initial recall of the mapping, reflected by greater foot-placement error during the first adaptation trial one-week later. Additionally, we found that increased age significantly associated with reduced initial recall. Overall, our results suggest that aging does not impair adaptation and that older adults can demonstrate visuomotor savings. However, older adults require some initial context during relearning to recall the appropriate mapping.
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