Learning new gait patterns: Age-related differences in skill acquisition and interlimb transfer

Exp Gerontol. 2018 Oct 1;111:45-52. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2018.07.001. Epub 2018 Jul 4.


Evidence from upper-extremity literature suggests that the normal ageing process affects an individual's ability to learn and retain a motor skill, but spares their ability to transfer the skill to the untrained, opposite limb. While this phenomenon has been well-studied in the upper-extremity, evidence in the lower-extremity is limited. Further, it is unclear to what extent age-related differences in motor learning and transfer are dependent on visual feedback of the motor task. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the effects of ageing on motor learning, retention, and interlimb transfer during walking with and without visual feedback. Forty-four subjects (24 young; 20 older adults) were tested on a treadmill over two consecutive days. On day 1, subjects learned a new gait pattern by performing a foot-trajectory tracking task that necessitated greater hip and knee flexion during the swing phase of the gait. On day 2, subjects repeated the task with their training leg to test retention, then with their untrained leg to test interlimb transfer. Trials without visual feedback were also collected on both days. Results indicated that older adults had reduced ability to learn the task, and also exhibited lower retention and inter-limb transfer. However, these differences were dependent on visual feedback as the groups performed similarly when feedback was removed. The findings provide novel evidence indicating that ageing impairs learning, retention, and transfer of motor skills in the lower-extremity during walking, which may have implications for gait therapy after stroke and other geriatric conditions.

Keywords: Adaptation; Ageing; Consolidation; Elderly; Functional task.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors*
  • Aged
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Female
  • Gait*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Lower Extremity / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Skills*
  • Transfer, Psychology*
  • Upper Extremity / physiology
  • Young Adult