Motor learning declines with aging, such that older adults retain less motor skill after practice compared to younger adults. However, it remains unclear if these motor learning declines are related to normal cognitive changes associated with aging. The purpose of this study was to examine which cognitive domains would best predict the amount of retention on a motor task one week after training in cognitively intact older adults. Twenty-one adults ages 65-84 years old were assessed with Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status, which assesses five cognitive domains (immediate and delayed memory, visuospatial/constructional, language, and attention). Participants also completed one training session of a functional upper extremity task, and were re-tested one week later. Stepwise regression indicated that the visuospatial domain was the only significant predictor of how much skill participants retained over one week, with a visual perception subtest explaining the most variance. Results from this study support previous work reporting that older adults' capacity for motor learning can be probed with visuospatial tests. These tests may capture the structural or functional health of neural networks critical for skill learning within the aging brain, and provide valuable clinical insight about an individual's unique rehabilitation potential.
Keywords: Motor skills; Procedural memory; Upper extremity; Visual perception.
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