Reaction Time & Psychomotor Performance of Older Individuals

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  • 0:02 Late Adulthood
  • 0:49 Reaction Time
  • 2:45 Effect of Aging
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

As people age, they become less coordinated, and they react to things more slowly. In this lesson, we'll explore what's happening and why people experience a decline in psychomotor performance and reaction time as they get older.

Late Adulthood

Pete is in his 70s, and so far he's really liking this time in his life. He's retired now and has more time to spend with family and friends. He's also pursuing some new hobbies. But there are some downsides. Recently, Pete has noticed that he's not as coordinated as he used to be. The other day, he saw a glass about to fall off the counter; when he was younger, he could have grabbed it before it fell, but this time he wasn't fast enough.

Pete is in late adulthood, or the time of life after age 65. During that time, many people find that their movements are not as quick or as coordinated as they once were. Let's look closer at how a person's movements change as they age.

Reaction Time

Pete used to be very smooth. He and his wife would go dancing, and every girl in the place would compliment him on how coordinated and graceful he was. But lately, he's just not as coordinated; he trips more often, and (like with the glass) his reflexes aren't as good as they used to be. What's going on?

The coordination of sensory and motor skills is called psychomotor performance. When someone is able to be coordinated and graceful, that's usually a reflection of psychomotor performance. Think about when Pete used to dance: he had to coordinate his senses about the room, the music, other dancers, and what his partner was doing, with the motor movements of his feet and legs, arms, and other parts of his body. The combination of his senses and his movements were what made his psychomotor performance so good.

One specific type of psychomotor performance is a person's reaction time, or how quickly a person reacts to sensory information with motor action. Remember how Pete used to be able to react to seeing the glass fall by catching it, but now he's just a little too slow? The cup fell because Pete didn't have a fast enough reaction time.

Psychomotor performance and reaction time require that different parts of a person's brain communicate with each other. Think about it like this: when Pete sees the glass about to fall, that sensory information travels from his eyes into his brain, where Pete realizes that what he's seeing is a glass about to fall.

Then, the part of his brain that has taken in the information about the glass has to send a message to the part of his brain that controls his movements. The message is, essentially, 'Hey, Pete! That glass is about to fall! Do something - quick!' If the different areas of Pete's brain don't communicate well, his psychomotor performance won't be optimal.

Effect of Aging

Pete used to be very coordinated and have quick reflexes, but lately, he's been less coordinated and his reaction time has slowed down. What's going on?

As people age, connections between different parts of the brain begin to break down. Think about the glass falling, for example. Pete's brain might register the image of the glass about to fall, and he might realize what he's looking at and what needs to be done. But if he can't get the message that he needs to grab the glass to the part of his brain that controls movement, he won't be fast enough.

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