Elderly show decreased adjustments of motor synergies in preparation to action

Halla Olafsdottir, Naoki Yoshida, Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, Mark L. Latash

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56 Scopus citations


Background: Aging is associated with decreased manual dexterity. Recent findings have identified changes in multi-finger synergies in elderly individuals. The purpose of current work was to study age-related changes in adjustments of multi-finger synergies in preparation to a quick targeted force pulse production task. Methods: Right-handed elderly and young subjects produced quick force pulses by pressing on individual force sensors with the four fingers of the right hand. Prior to the force pulse, the subjects produced a constant low level of the total force. An index of multi-finger synergies was computed across trials for each time sample for each subject and each condition. Findings: During steady-state force production, subjects showed co-variation of commands to fingers that stabilized the total force. An index of this co-variation started to decrease prior to the initiation of the force pulse (anticipatory synergy adjustment). Anticipatory synergy adjustments in young subjects started earlier and were larger than in elderly subjects. In particular, young and elderly subjects showed significant anticipatory synergy adjustments starting about 150 ms and about 50 ms prior to the force pulse initiation, respectively. There were no significant differences between the two groups in other indices of performance such as reaction time, time to peak force, and magnitude of the peak force. Interpretation: We conclude that healthy aging is associated with decreased feed-forward adjustments of multi-finger synergies in preparation to action. This may contribute to the age-related decline in the hand function. Based on similarities in age-related changes in anticipatory postural adjustments and anticipatory synergy adjustments we suggest a hypothesis that the two phenomena may share common mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)44-51
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Biomechanics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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