Older adults can learn from babies to improve movement

New research suggests that an infant's exploration-exploitation arm movement process may help older adults improve movement.
By Amy Wallace  |  June 16, 2017 at 10:56 AM
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June 16 (UPI) -- A recent study found that a motor mechanism used by babies and toddlers in early development may help older adults improve accuracy of movement.

A team of researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, or BGU, in Israel found that the arm movement exploration-exploitation process of infants may be used to benefit older adults in improving movement.

"In early development, babies seem to make random movements in all directions until they learn to purposefully reach for objects," Dr. Shelly Levy-Tzedek, a lecturer in the BGU Department of Physiotherapy, Leon and Matilda Recanati School for Community Health Professions, said in a press release. "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."

For the study, published June 12 in Scientific Reports, researchers connected the arms of 40 study participants, 20 age 24 and older and 20 age 70 and older, to a sensor to measure the rotation of the arm at the elbow while they made rhythmic movements of the forearm in a windshield wiper motion. They did this while trying to maintain certain speeds and arm amplitude, with and without visual feedback.

Researchers expected the participants to not be able to maintain an increase in speed and amplitude of movement over time because of fatigue, but the participants were able to do this by making mistakes that helped them improve future performance.

At first "their movements were too slow and too small," Levy-Tzedek said. "We then encouraged them to make movements that were larger and faster, and their performance on the original task improved significantly."

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

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