Effective Verbal Feedback for Older Clients
Senior Fitness: How to factor the effects of aging into how you talk clients through their exercises.Senior exercisers learn differently than younger ones do. They also process information differently from younger exercisers, and they react differently to the same information. This means trainers need to know
- whether to give feedback, and how to give it;
- when to give feedback—whether during a movement or once it’s completed; and
- what exactly to focus on and what to say.
- Implicit memory is nonconscious and cannot be easily verbalized. A basic example would be getting dressed in the morning. Motor skills like walking are implicit-memory activities that can be more difficult for senior exercisers. Although walking is natural and easy for younger persons, older adults may need a minute to recall the motor program that initiates walking. They might also need to think about it a bit while doing it, unlike a younger person who can jog on a treadmill at a good speed, carry on a conversation and watch several TVs at once.
- Explicit memory is conscious and can be verbalized. An example would be remembering what you ate for lunch. Explicit memory could also relate to how well seniors remember the exercises used during a previous session.
- Working memory is the number of things we can pay attention to at one time. This variety of memory also changes significantly during aging (Stevens 2003). For example, a seated knee extension exercise might be easy to do, but the difficulty of the exercise would increase dramatically for older adults if you asked them to explain which muscles they were working as they were doing it.
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Cognitive flexibility is the brain’s ability to restructure knowledge when a situation changes (Spiro et al. 1992). In an exercise setting, a changing situation might be an increasingly difficult motor skill or the environment itself. Cognitive flexibility decreases with age, and the inability to adapt to change often elevates a client’s anxiety level. The following are ways a trainer can minimize client anxiety:
Decide upon feedback before a session. Create consistency by developing your own phrases to connect exercises to specific verbal feedback.
Practice feedback delivery and tone of voice. Remember that some people lose their hearing as they get older. Keep your pitch low and your tone consistent, calm and patient.
Communicate information in chunks. Provide a block of instruction on what is about to happen, how it should happen and why it should be this way.
Allow ample time to process information. Provide instructions and/or feedback, pause for a few seconds, wait for an acknowledgment and then move on.
Get the timing right. If your business model allows, train earlier in the day. Most seniors self-report that they prefer this, because mornings are when they feel their best. Also, try shorter but more frequent training sessions to prevent memory decay.
Feedback has two primary varieties:
Knowledge of results (KR), focusing on the outcome of a movement. Here is an example of KR feedback: “Great! You completed eight triceps cable push-downs.”
Knowledge of performance (KP), addressing the form or mechanics of a movement. KP feedback on the above example might be this: “The movements were a little fast. You might be using momentum. This will reduce the work your triceps do.”
The following example uses squats to illustrate the difference between KR and KP:
KR: “Great. You completed 15 solid reps.” KP: “That was a good set, but I would like to see your feet about 2 inches farther apart on the next set.”
Humes, L.E., & Floyd, S.S. 2005. Measures of working memory, sequence learning, and speech recognition in the elderly. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 48 (1), 224–35.
Schmidt, R.A., & Wrisberg, C.N. 2007. Motor Learning and Performance (4th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Spiro, R.J., et al. 1992. Cognitive flexibility, constructivism and hypertext: Random access instruction for advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structured domains. In T.M. Duffy & D.H. Jonassen (Eds.), Constructivism and the Technology of Instruction: A Conversation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Stevens, B. 2003. How seniors learn. Center for Medicare Education, 4 (9). www.mathematica-mpr.com/PDFs/howseniors.pdf; retrieved Apr. 4, 2012.
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