With an ever-growing life expectancy and senior population, costs for healthcare and assisted living for the elderly will place an unsustainable burden on the US economy as the elderly lose their functional mobility. The cost of assisted living for seniors in the US is projected to reach $248 billion by 2012. At the core of the loss of functional mobility are declines in cognitive and motor function, represented by increased intra-individual variability known as greater behavioral inconsistency. Increased neural noise is the higher occurrence of random brain activity causing greater behavioral inconsistency in the elderly. As such, scientists are continuing to seek means of attenuating age-related increases in behavioral inconsistency. Currently, the factors that attenuate these declines remain unknown, presenting a barrier to the development of targeted interventions for the clinic and community. The advantage of animal models become in studies of aging is their shorter lifespan that allows the scientist to obtain outcome data more rapidly. Yet, behavioral inconsistency has not been studied in animal models. Recent theorizations propose that animals housed in enriched experimental environments exhibit smaller age-related increases in neural noise during the aging process. "Enriched" animals that are housed in groups have the opportunity for social interaction and an environment that is varied over the experimental period with toys and food locations being changed frequently. However, the specific source of the benefits of the environment is still being debated, as enriched environments positively affect aging in a manner that cannot be replicated by socialization or exercise alone. It is thus a logical question to ask whether the increased opportunity to engage in different movement patterns provides the positive effects of enriched environments.
Our specific aim i s to test the hypothesis that greater variance in the movement patterns that one engages in is a primary source of the benefits of environmental enrichment. We will connect the effects of aging on variability in neural and motor activity with that of variety of motor activities afforded by the environment. This study will be conducted by an interdisciplinary research team from Kinesiology, Physics, and Neuroscience to examine the complex scientific problem of aging. Our study has the potential to achieve a significant scientific breakthrough due to its many innovations. The results would show that a key component to healthy aging is to continually acquire new movement skills throughout the lifespan rather than physical activity alone. Interventions that seek to slow age-related declines in cognition and action have focused primarily on maintaining existing function. Successful completion of this study would provide the evidence-base for continually introducing new movement skills to seniors, a process that could be easily implemented through community programs.

Public Health Relevance

With people over 65 years becoming proportionally the largest age bracket in America, this study is relevant to nearly an eighth of the entire nation. Successful completion of this study will show that continually engaging in a greater variety of different movement skills has a protective effect against neural and motor declines in aging, a result that can be directly translated to clinic and community. Maintaining cognitive and movement capabilities are especially relevant to public health, as they are essential components of functional mobility, which lies at the core of quality of life in the elderly.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Aging Systems and Geriatrics Study Section (ASG)
Program Officer
Chen, Wen G
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Indiana University Bloomington
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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