Proceedings of The Physiological Society

The Biomedical Basis of Elite Performance 2016 (London, UK) (2016) Proc Physiol Soc 35, PC15

Poster Communications

Does age affect motor sequence learning ability?

M. K. Fleming1, N. Lazarus1, D. Newham1

1. Centre of Human and Aerospace Physiological Sciences, King's College London, London, United Kingdom.


  • Fig. 1. A. Onset time (OT) area under the curve (arb. units) as a function of age of participant. Values <24 indicate learning of the movement sequence. B. Age of participant as a function of OT area under the curve grouping (1= excellent learning: OT AUC <10, 5 = no learning: OT AUC >24), showing a spread of ages for each grouping.

Healthy ageing is typically associated with a decline in cognitive and motor abilities and older adults may show reduced or slower motor sequence learning than younger adults (Boyd et al., 2008; Zimerman et al., 2013). This study aimed to examine the effect of age on an explicit motor sequence learning task. Healthy adult humans (n=25) aged 25-85 years performed a motor sequence learning task with the non-dominant (left) hand requiring movement of a computer mouse from a central square to illuminated targets on a computer monitor. Participants were informed of the presence of a repeated sequence of movements and encouraged to anticipate target appearance. After familiarisation, a sequence of 10 movements was repeated 25 times followed by a random sequence. Onset time (OT) was recorded as the time from target illumination to the cursor leaving the central square. Initial OT (i.e. reaction to target illumination) did not differ between older (>50 years) and younger (< 45 years) adults (t-test, p = 0.38) and there was no correlation between age and initial OT (Pearson correlation, p = 0.13). OT area under the curve (OT AUC) was significantly better for younger adults than older (p = 0.04) and there was a significant moderate correlation between age and OT AUC (Fig. 1A, p = 0.01) suggesting reduced rate of learning with age. However, when OT AUC was divided into bandwidths of functional equivalence (Lazarus and Harridge, 2010) using five categories (1 = OT AUC < 10, 2 = 10-15, 3 = 15-20, 4 = 20-24, 5 >24) a spread of ages across each category can be seen (Fig. 1B). There was no difference between younger and older adults for the specificity of sequence learning (OT difference between trained and untrained sequence, p = 0.38). These results suggest that motor reactions and sequence learning with the non-dominant hand may not be impaired in healthy older adults and highlights the complexity of the relationship between age and motor function.

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements