We explored changes in finger interaction in the process of healthy aging as a window into neural control strategies of natural movements. In particular, we quantified the amount of force produced by noninstructed fingers in different directions, the amount of force produced by the instructed finger orthogonally to the task direction, and the strength of multifinger synergies stabilizing the total force magnitude and direction during accurate force production. Healthy elderly participants performed accurate isometric force production tasks in five directions by individual fingers and by all four fingers acting together. Their data were compared with a dataset obtained in a similar earlier study of young subjects. Finger force vectors were measured using six-component force/torque sensors. Multifinger synergies were quantified using the framework of the uncontrolled manifold hypothesis. The elderly participants produced lower force magnitudes by noninstructed fingers and higher force magnitudes by instructed fingers in nontask directions. They showed strong synergies stabilizing the magnitude and direction of the total force vector. However, the synergy indexes were significantly lower than those observed in the earlier study of young subjects. The results are consistent with an earlier hypothesis of preferential weakening of intrinsic hand muscles with age. We interpret the findings as a shift in motor control from synergic to element-based, which may be causally linked to the documented progressive neuronal death at different levels of the neural axis.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physiology (medical)