Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Older adult clumsiness linked to brain changes

Date:
June 5, 2013
Source:
Washington University in St. Louis
Summary:
For many older adults, the aging process seems to go hand-in-hand with an annoying increase in clumsiness. New research suggests some of these reaching-and-grasping difficulties may be caused by changes in the mental frame of reference that older adults use to visualize nearby objects.

For many older adults, the aging process seems to go hand-in-hand with an annoying increase in clumsiness -- difficulties dialing a phone, fumbling with keys in a lock or knocking over the occasional wine glass while reaching for a salt shaker.

While it's easy to see these failings as a normal consequence of age-related breakdowns in agility, vision and other physical abilities, new research from Washington University in St. Louis suggests that some of these day-to-day reaching-and-grasping difficulties may be be caused by changes in the mental frame of reference that older adults use to visualize nearby objects.

"Reference frames help determine what in our environment we will pay attention to and they can affect how we interact with objects, such as controls for a car or dishes on a table," said study co-author Richard Abrams, PhD, professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences.

"Our study shows that in addition to physical and perceptual changes, difficulties in interaction may also be caused by changes in how older adults mentally represent the objects near them." The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, is co-authored by two recent graduates of the psychology graduate program at Washington University. The lead author, Emily K. Bloesch, PhD, is now a postdoctoral teaching associate at Central Michigan University. The third co-author, Christopher C. Davoli, PhD, is a postdoctoral psychology researcher at the University of Notre Dame.

When tested on a series of simple tasks involving hand movements, young people in this study adopted an attentional reference frame centered on the hand, while older study participants adopted a reference frame centered on the body.

Young adults, the researchers explain, have been shown to use an "action-centered" reference frame that is sensitive to the movements they are making. So, when young people move their hands to pick up an object, they remain aware of and sensitive to potential obstacles along the movement path. Older adults, on the other hand, tend to devote more attention to objects that are closer to their bodies -- whether they are on the action path or not.

"We showed in our paper that older adults do not use an "action centered" reference frame. Instead they use a "body centered" one," Bloesch said. "As a result, they might be less able to effectively adjust their reaching movements to avoid obstacles -- and that's why they might knock over the wine glass after reaching for the salt shaker."

These findings mesh well with other research that has documented age-related physical declines in several areas of the brain that are responsible for hand-eye coordination. Older adults exhibit volumetric declines in the parietal cortex and intraparietal sulcus, as well as white-matter loss in the parietal lobe and precuneus. These declines may make the use of an action-centered reference frame difficult or impossible.

"These three areas are highly involved in visually guided hand actions like reaching and grasping and in creating attentional reference frames that are used to guide such actions. These neurological changes in older adults suggest that their representations of the space around them may be compromised relative to those of young adults and that, consequently, young and older adults might encode and attend to near-body space in fundamentally different ways," the study finds.

As the U.S. population ages, research on these issues is becoming increasingly important. An estimated 60-to-70 percent of the elderly population reports difficulty with activities of daily living, such as eating and bathing and many show deficiencies in performing goal-directed hand movements. Knowing more about these aging-related changes in spatial representation, the researchers suggest, may eventually inspire options for skills training and other therapies to help seniors compensate for the cognitive declines that influence hand-eye coordination

This research, supported by Grant AG0030 from the National Institute on Aging.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington University in St. Louis. The original article was written by Gerry Everding. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. E. K. Bloesch, C. C. Davoli, R. A. Abrams. Age-Related Changes in Attentional Reference Frames for Peripersonal Space. Psychological Science, 2013; 24 (4): 557 DOI: 10.1177/0956797612457385

Cite This Page:

Washington University in St. Louis. "Older adult clumsiness linked to brain changes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 June 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130605085909.htm>.
Washington University in St. Louis. (2013, June 5). Older adult clumsiness linked to brain changes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130605085909.htm
Washington University in St. Louis. "Older adult clumsiness linked to brain changes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130605085909.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

'Holy Grail' Of Weight Loss? New Find Could Be It

'Holy Grail' Of Weight Loss? New Find Could Be It

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) In a potential breakthrough for future obesity treatments, scientists have used MRI scans to pinpoint brown fat in a living adult for the first time. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Create Stem Cells From Adult Skin Cells

Scientists Create Stem Cells From Adult Skin Cells

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) The breakthrough could mean a cure for some serious diseases and even the possibility of human cloning, but it's all still a way off. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Obama: 8 Million Healthcare Signups

Obama: 8 Million Healthcare Signups

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) President Barack Obama gave a briefing Thursday announcing 8 million people have signed up under the Affordable Care Act. He blasted continued Republican efforts to repeal the law. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A recent study links apathetic feelings to a smaller brain. Researchers say the results indicate a need for apathy screening for at-risk seniors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins