Dance keeps us young: Older adults who participate in dance class do not differ from young adults in timing


Aging is associated with vast neuromuscular and sensorimotor changes that may manifest in motor performance deficits (i.e., slowness and an increased variability in movement). The current study used a newly developed Hand Selection Complexity Task (HSCT) to compare timing and accuracy in older adults (OAs: n = 12, Mage = 77.2, 11F) from a retirement home (R-OAs: n = 6, Mage = 79.3, 5F) and dance class (D-OAs: n = 6, Mage = 75.0, 6F) to young adults (YAs: n = 20, Mage = 22.65, 12F) from the university community. HSCT gradients were displayed on a table in front of the participant in ipsilateral and contralateral space. Starting with hands at the midline, participants performed 10 reciprocal tapping movements between two targets as fast and accurately as possible. The gradient in contralateral space was completed first, where participants were free to select whichever hand felt most comfortable. Three conditions enabled manipulation of: (1) target amplitude, (2) target width, and (3) both target amplitude and width simultaneously. Within each condition, six levels of difficulty, determined using Fitts' Law, were randomly presented. Timing and accuracy were recorded. A main effect of age revealed that OAs took significantly longer to complete the task; however no differences in the number of errors emerged. Interestingly, when separated into two groups based on recruitment location, D-OAs did not differ from YAs; however, R-OAs were significantly slower than both YAs and D-OAs. Previous work has demonstrated that physical activity can help prevent cognitive decline. The current study provides preliminary evidence to extend the benefits of physical activity, such as dance, to preserve motor functioning.

Acknowledgments: The authors would like to acknowledge the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (PJB) for funding.