Longitudinal associations of pickleball-playing with cognitive function and balance in community-dwelling older adults
Søgaard, Inga M.
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Physical activity has been imputed to benefit both the physical and cognitive health of older adults and has been promoted within the scientific literature as a process through which age-related cognitive decline may be prevented or attenuated. Sports-playing activities that confer varying physical and mental demands may differentially benefit cognition and balance, given the varying acquisition of skills and allocation of mental and physical resources predicated by the natural content of the activity. Pickleball is a relatively new racket sport that has grown in popularity among older adults, and one which is hypothesized to improve cognition and balance in a task-specific manner by enlisting both aerobic activity and perceptual learning processes. The present study sought to investigate the associations between pickleball playing, cognition, and balance by utilizing a six-month longitudinal observational design including community-dwelling older adults (N=86), characterized by membership in one of four different physical activity groups: advanced pickleball players, novice pickleball players, aerobic exercisers, and inactive controls. Findings from mixed-effects modeling suggest that regular and sustained engagement in pickleball playing is positively associated with multiple domain-specific measures of cognition. Compared to inactive controls, experienced pickleball players exhibited better divided visual attention, multiple object tracking, and simple reaction time performance, whereas aerobic exercisers demonstrated better inhibitory control and working memory performance. No differences were found between advanced pickleball players and aerobic exercisers in terms of balance, although both participant groups demonstrated significantly better balance than inactive participants. None of the activity groups showed any performance change over the six-month study duration. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed, along with limitations and possible directions for future research.
Thesis (Ph.D.)-- Wichita State University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of Psychology