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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Aging Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2019.00321

A Delayed Advantage: Multi-session Training at Evening Hours Leads to Better Long-term Retention of Motor Skill in the Elderly

Carmit Gal1, 2*,  Ella Gabitov3,  Rinatia Maaravi Hesseg1, 4, Avi Karni1, 4 and  Maria Korman1
  • 1Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities, University of Haifa, Israel
  • 2Sagol Department of Neurobiology, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Haifa, Israel
  • 3McConnell Brain Imaging Center, Montreal Neurological Institute, Montreal University, Canada
  • 4Laboratory for Human Brain and Learning, Sagol Department of Neurobiology, University of Haifa, Israel

The acquisition and retention of motor skills is necessary for everyday functioning in the elderly and may be critical in the context of motor rehabilitation. Recent studies indicate that motor training closely followed by sleep may result in better engagement of procedural (“how to”) memory consolidation processes in the elderly. Nevertheless, elderly individuals are mostly morning oriented and a common practice is to time rehabilitation programs to morning hours. Here, we tested whether the time-of-day wherein training is afforded (morning, 8-10:30am, or evening, 6-9pm) affects the long-term outcome of a multi-session motor practice program (10 sessions across 3-4 weeks) in healthy elderly participants. Twenty-nine (15 women) older adults (60-75 years) practiced an explicitly instructed 5-element key-press sequence by repeatedly generating the sequence ‘as fast and accurately as possible’. The groups did not differ in terms of sleep habits and quality (1-week long actigraphy); all were morning-oriented individuals.
All participants gained robustly from the intervention, shortening sequence tapping duration and retaining the gains (>90%) at 1-month post-intervention, irrespective of the time-of-day of training. However, retesting at 7-months post-intervention showed that the attrition of the training induced gains was more pronounced in the morning trained group compared to the evening group (76% and 56.5% loss in sequence tapping time; 7/14 and 3/14 participants showed a > 5% decline in accuracy relative to end of training, respectively).
Altogether, the results show that morning-oriented older adults effectively acquired skill in the performance of a sequence of finger movements, in both morning and evening practice sessions. However, evening training lead to a significant advantage, over morning training, in the long-term retention of the skill. Evening training should be considered an appropriate time window for motor skill learning in older adults, even in individuals with morning chronotype. The results are in line with the notion that motor training preceding a sleep interval may be better consolidated into long-term memory in the elderly, and thus result in lower forgetting rates.

Keywords: Elderly, motor skill, multi-session training, retention, Morning, evening, Chronotype, Actigraphy, procedural learning, transfer, Sleep

Received: 30 Jul 2019; Accepted: 05 Nov 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Gal, Gabitov, Maaravi Hesseg, Karni and Korman. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Carmit Gal, Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, 3498838, Haifa, Israel,