Aging and skilled performance: Advances in Theory and Applications

By Wendy A. Rogers; Arthur D. Fisk et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Assessing Age-Related Differences in the Long-Term Retention of Skills

Wendy A. Rogers University of Georgia

Consider a retired couple taking up golf at age 60. They may spend the summer and fall months developing golf skills. What will happen to those skills after the winter months, during which time they are unable to play? Would the older golfers' abilities decline more than younger golfers' would in a similar situation? How much practice should individuals engage in during those winter months to maintain their skill levels? Will there be a need for extensive retraining in the spring or will the previous skill levels be immediately reinstated? Will the level of decline vary as a function of how skilled they were to begin with? These are questions for which we do not currently have answers.

Although the preceding example involves the popular sport of golf, the issues are similar for a wide range of skill domains (e.g., learning to drive, performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, using different types of computer software, programming a videocassette recorder, and administering an insulin injection). An older individual may be taught all these skills even though he or she may not use them for some time--days, months, or even years. Whereas the consequences of forgetting some of these skills are minor, in other cases the consequences may be life-threatening.

Our understanding of age-related differences in skill retention stems primarily from studies focused on how skills acquired at a young age are retained into old age. For example, skilled typists in their 60s and 70s can type as quickly and as accurately as skilled typists in their 30s and 40s ( Bosman, 1993; Salthouse, 1984). Similarly, highly rated chess players can maintain their skill levels at least into their 60s ( Charness

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