The aim of the paper is to review studies that focus on age related differences in motor learning across life span, particularly those focused on older aged adults. Motor development; the growth of muscular co-ordination from being a child, is considered generally, yet the main focus is motor plasticity; which is the ability of the Central Nervous System to acquire different pathways for sensory perception or motor skills.
A large number of studies are considered, focusing on a number of different aspects of motor learning. For example, for motor learning of fine motor skills, accuracy, sub movements, life-span studies, force variability, and augmented feedback. The rest of the studies consider motor learning of gross motor skills. many of them are comparative between older and younger adults, highlighting the differences of how we learn as we get older.
The findings from the studies suggest that older adults are able to gain in terms of their performance, yet the extent to which plasticity varies with age has to be carefully considered. A common result in studies of motor function show that performance levels drop in older adults compared to younger adults, regardless of any learning gains. Learning and performance differences are related to the structure, complexity, difficulty and familiarity of the task. Fine motor skill studies showed that performance gain diminished in older adults, and that performance differences between the young and old increased with practice. However, for the Gross motor skills, the results were contradictory, as some studies showed the highest improvement in older adults and others in the young.
A general overview of the findings are that decreased motor skill learning gains were interpreted as an age related performance loss in older adults, and occur due to a reduction in cognitive or motor plasticity. The causes of this are due to neuro-physiological changes; reduced nerve conduction and reaction speed, increased lateralization, diminished inhibition processes, and diminished tactile sensitivity. Despite these changes, there are considered to be compensatory processes in the cortical and sub cortical function that allow maintenance of performance. Brain imaging of the prefrontal , medio-frontal frontostriatal networks, which all relate to attention, showed age related decline.
In summary, all studies showed that performance does decline with age, yet considerable performance gains can still be seen, and that from the life span studies, we can see that decreases that occur in motor plasticity in older age can also occur in younger and middle aged adults.