Exploring the relationship between visuospatial function and age-related deficits in motor skill transfer

  • Jennapher Lingo VanGilder
  • Christopher S. Walter
  • Caitlin R. Hengge
  • Sydney Y. SchaeferEmail author
Original Article



Generalizing learned information from one motor task to another is critical for effective motor rehabilitation. A recent study demonstrated age-related declines in motor skill transfer, yet findings from other motor learning studies suggest that visuospatial impairments may explain such aging effects.


The purpose of this secondary analysis was to test whether age-related deficits in motor skill transfer were related to low visuospatial ability.


Forty-two participants (mean ± SD age: 72.1 ± 9.9 years) were tested on an upper extremity dexterity task before and after 3 days of training on an upper extremity reaching task. Training and control data have been published previously. Prior to training, global cognitive status and specific cognitive domains (visuospatial/executive, attention, and delayed memory) were evaluated using the Montreal Cognitive Assessment.


Backward-stepwise linear regression indicated that the Visuospatial/Executive subtest was related to motor skill transfer (i.e., the amount of change in performance on the untrained motor task), such that participants with higher visuospatial scores improved more on the untrained dexterity task than those with lower scores. Global cognitive status was unrelated to motor skill transfer.


Consistent with previous studies showing a positive relationship between visuospatial function and other aspects of motor learning, this secondary analysis indicates that less motor skill transfer among older adults may indeed be due to declines in visuospatial function.


The present study highlights the potential utility of assessing older patients’ visuospatial ability within motor rehabilitation to provide valuable insight into the extent to which they may learn and generalize motor skills through training.


Motor control Rehabilitation Cognitive aging 



This work was supported in part by the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health (K01 AG047926 to SYS and F31 AG062057 to JLV); the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation (Spetzler Scholarship to JLV), and Health Resources and Services Administration’s Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program (U1QHP28723 to CSW).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all the authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

40520_2019_1345_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (72 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 72 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological and Health Systems EngineeringArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Physical TherapyUniversity of Arkansas for Medical SciencesLittle RockUSA
  3. 3.University of Utah HospitalSalt Lake CityUSA
  4. 4.Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic TrainingUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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