Memories that last in old age: Motor skill learning and memory preservation

C. D. Smith, A. Walton, A. D. Loveland, G. H. Umberger, R. J. Kryscio, D. M. Gash

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Using an automated test panel, age-associated declines in learning, remembering and performing a novel visuomotor task were assessed in 497 normal adults ranging from 18 to 95 years old. As predicted, task performance times slowed with increasing age in the cross-sectional portion of the study. However in the subsequent longitudinal study, while motor learning was significantly slower in adults over 62 years old, motor memory was pristinely preserved in normal adults from 18 to 95 years old. When tested 2 years after the first training session and without intervening rehearsal, mean performance times were retained and continued to improve by 10% in young adults and 13% in aged adults, reflecting long lasting preservation of motor memories. While the maximum lifetime of an unpracticed, novel motor memory in humans is not known, the present study suggests that new motor memories can be retained for at least 2 years without rehearsal in normal aged adults. This age-resistant component of motor memory stands in contrast to the well-known decrements in other motor and cognitive processes with human aging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)883-890
Number of pages8
JournalNeurobiology of Aging
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Drs. D. Wekstein and F. Schmitt for organization of the BRAINS aging study from which many of the aged volunteers were recruited for this study. We also thank Sheila McLean, Kim Mahood, Emily Shultze, and Kyle Smoot for technical assistance in data collection. This work was supported by NIA Grants AG05144, AG13494, and GCRC M01 RR02602.


  • Aging
  • Memory preservation
  • Motor learning
  • Motor memory
  • Skill learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Aging
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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