11 June 2013

Clumsiness tied to brain changes

Clumsiness in older adults may be due to changes in the mental frame of reference that they use to visualise nearby objects, researchers say.


Certain brain changes may help explain why many older adults become clumsier as time goes by, a new study says.

Age-related declines in vision, agility and other physical abilities can lead to an increase in problems such as knocking over a glass while reaching for the salt shaker or fumbling while trying to slide a key into a lock.

But some of the increased clumsiness may be due to changes in the mental frame of reference that older adults use to visualise nearby objects, say researchers at Washington University in St Louis.

"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," study co-author Richard Abrams, a professor of psychology in arts and sciences, said in a university news release.

"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," he explained.

The study, recently published in the journal Psychological Science, included young and older adults who were given a series of simple tasks involving hand movement. The young adults used an "action-centred" reference frame when picking up an object. This means that they remained aware of and sensitive to potential obstacles along their hand's path of movement.

But older adults used a "body-centred" reference frame, which means they devoted more attention to objects that were closer to their bodies, whether or not they were along their hand's path of movement. As a result, they were less able to adjust their hand movements to avoid obstacles, the researchers said.

More information

The US National Institute on Aging has more about health and aging.

Copyright © 2015 HealthDay. All rights reserved.




Get a quote


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Make a change and get moving! »

The dangers of blood clots Fit people live longer Exercise is key to health in old age

How you can get moving

Fee like a useless lump of laziness just laying on the couch? Fear not, there's hope for you! Here's how you can get active.

Up for grabs! »

To vape or not to vape? Twisp's new range of e-cigs Discover your Twisp

Win one of the 3 new devices from Twisp!

Now you can stand a chance of winning one of the 3 new devices, as well as flavours and accessories worth R2000 each!