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Hum Mov Sci. 2012 Jun;31(3):502-18. doi: 10.1016/j.humov.2011.07.005. Epub 2012 Jan 9.

Age effects on rotational hand action.

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Department of Kinesiology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.


We investigated age-related differences in finger coordination during rotational hand actions. Two hypotheses based on earlier studies were tested: higher safety margins and lower synergy indices were expected in the elderly. Young and elderly subjects held a handle instrumented with five six-component force sensors and performed discrete accurate pronation and supination movements. The weight of the system was counterbalanced with another load. Indices of synergies stabilizing salient performance variables, such as total normal force, total tangential force, moments produced by these forces, and total moment of force were computed at two levels of a hypothetical control hierarchy, at the virtual finger-thumb level and at the individual finger level. At each level, synergy indices reflected the normalized difference between the sum of the variances of elemental variables and variance of their combined output, both computed at comparable phases over repetitive trials. The elderly group performed the task slower and showed lower safety margins for the thumb during the rotation phase. Overall, the synergy indices were not lower in the elderly group. In several cases, these indices were significantly higher in the elderly than in the younger participants. Hence, both main hypotheses have been falsified. We interpret the unexpectedly low safety margins in the elderly as resulting from several factors such as increased force variability, impaired feed-forward control, and the fact that there was no danger of dropping the object. Our results suggest that in some natural tasks, such as the one used in this study, healthy elderly persons show no impairment, as compared to younger persons, in their ability to organize digits into synergies stabilizing salient performance variables.

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