A novel approach to enhancing limb control in older adults

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Two recent experiments have demonstrated that young adult participants were able to make faster and more harmonic movements in a typical reciprocal Fitts task (ID = 6) following a practice session of sine wave tracking (Boyle et al. in Exp Brain Res 223:377–387, 2012; J Mot Behav 46:277–285, 2014). The purpose of the present experiment was to replicate these findings with a young adult population (age 18–25) and determine whether sine wave tracking also enhances goal-directed limb movements in an older adult population (age 65–90). To establish a performance baseline, all participants were first pretested on a typical ID = 6 Fitts task. Participants in each age group were then randomly assigned to one of the two training conditions where they practiced (45 trials) on a typical Fitts task (ID = 6) or they were asked to track a sine wave template (45 trials). Following practice, all participants were then posttested under the ID = 6 Fitts conditions. The results demonstrated that both young and older adult participants that practiced under the sine wave conditions enhanced their Fitts task performance compared to participants in their respective age groups who practiced under the Fitts conditions. These enhancements included faster movement times, smaller dwell times, and more harmonic movements, all without decreases in movement accuracy. These results replicate our previous findings with young adults and extend the finding to older adult participants. Interestingly, the performances of the older adults following sine wave practice were as fast and as accurate as the young adults following Fitts task practice.