Sensory and Motor Changes in Late Adulthood

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  • 0:01 Late Adulthood
  • 0:55 Sensory Changes
  • 3:19 Motor Changes
  • 6:23 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, their senses change and dull. But why does this happen? In this lesson, we'll examine the changes in the brain and nervous system that cause a decline in sensory perception in later life.

Late Adulthood

Marie is in her 70s, and she loves being retired and having time to socialize with all her friends. But she's also noticed some problems. Lately, her hearing isn't as good as it used to be. She has to turn the TV volume up, and having a conversation in a coffee shop or restaurant is tough because she can't hear her friends over the background noise.

Marie is in late adulthood, or the time of life after age 65. During this time, the body is going through changes. Sensorimotor skills, or those relating to our relationship with our environment, tend to decline as we age, so many people in late adulthood have problems with their senses, like Marie, and with the movement of their bodies. Let's look closer at changes in sensorimotor skills and how they can impact a person's day-to-day life.

Sensory Changes

Marie is having issues. Her hearing is getting bad, and her eyesight isn't as good as it used to be, either. She is worried that something serious might be wrong.

What Marie is experiencing is a normal part of aging. As we age, our sensory input, or information sent to our brain by other parts of our body, declines. Think of the word 'senses' and you can remember 'sensory,' and that's really all it is: information from all five of our senses.

You can also think of the word 'input' to understand how sensory information works. Our senses send information to our brains; it is input provided to our brains about our environment and our role in the environment.

So when Marie can't hear or see as well as she used to, it's part of the normal decline of sensory input in aging adults. But what causes this decline?

There's a part of the brain called the sensory cortex whose entire job is to process sensory information as it comes in. The sensory cortex figures out what's going on and then sends messages to other parts of the brain to react to that information. As we age, the sensory cortex begins to degenerate. That is, the brain tissue in that part of the brain begins to break down and not work as well.

Something else happens, too. The nerve cells, which carry messages from different parts of the body to and from the brain, become slower. Some of them die, which decreases the number of nerve cells, too. As a result, the sensory cortex isn't getting the messages it needs from the nerve cells.

So basically, everything starts to break down, both within the brain and outside of it. As a result, all of our senses gradually decline with age. Marie has noticed that her hearing and vision aren't as good, but she also can't taste things as well as she did, and her sense of smell isn't as strong as it was when she was younger.

The changes in sensory input don't happen overnight. It's a very gradual process that happens over years and decades. Most adults adjust to the minor changes in sensory input very well. It's only when people become very old that the sensory input issues make it hard for them to perform everyday activities.

Motor Changes

Remember nerve cells? They connect the brain with the rest of the body. As Marie's hearing and vision decrease, a loss in the number of nerve cells and a slowing down of the nerve cells that survive are partly responsible.

But nerve cells do more than just give information to the brain. They also carry information from the brain to the body. Think of them like a superhighway running all through your body. There are multiple lanes running in two directions on this highway: one running to the brain with sensory input and one running from your brain with motor output, or information sent from our brain to the rest of our body to induce movement.

Just as with sensory input, you can remember motor output by its name. The word 'motor' means 'movement,' and the brain is sending 'output' to the body to move.

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