AGE STEREOTYPES’ EFFECTS ON MOTOR LEARNING IN OLDER ADULTS: THE IMPACT MAY NOT BE IMMEDIATE

Review written by Dr Mariana Wingood info

BACKGROUND & OBJECTIVE

Language is a powerful tool that is often under-valued and forgotten. However, the words clinicians use can have secondary/unintentional circumstances, including effects on motor learning and performance. Those working with older adults need to be extra vigilant in their language use, especially with terminology that may reflect implicit or explicit forms of ageism. Ageism was defined by Dr. Robert Butler in 1968 as a “systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old” and unfortunately it still exists today. Ageist beliefs can result in internalized self-perception of aging and affect an older adult’s health-related outcomes. This has been studied on multiple occasions and the results are consistent: self-perception of aging affects performance on both cognitive and motor tasks. The researchers of this study took a closer look at the effects of age-based stereotype on a balance task. They examined the effect of stereotype on both immediate and delayed motor performance. With the primary purpose of determining whether stereotypes influence motor learning in older adults.

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METHODS

Subjects Selected: Female (age range 60-76 years old) recruited from a female physical activity group.

Procedure: Participants were instructed to stand on a wobble board (left/right deviation of max 18°) and maintain it in a horizontal position for as long as possible. After the initial trial, participants were given specific instructions based on the randomly pre-assigned category (a negative stereotype group, a positive stereotype group, and a control group)-see Table 1 for details.

Table 1: Instructions for each pre-assigned category

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All participants performed a learning phase consisting of 10 trials with 90-s breaks. Twenty-four hours later a retention test was completed. A retention test is performed to assess the persistence of an improved performance. This is done by requiring the participant to perform a practiced task after a period of time during which the task was not practiced. In this case it was used to assess the effects of stereotype manipulation (positive vs. negative) on relatively permanent change/learning of the novel balance task- standing on the wobble platform.

RESULTS

According to this study older adults receiving a negative age stereotype did show reduced performance on the balance task during the retention test. It is important to note that these effects were only noted during permanent learning and not during

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