Hemispheric asymmetry reduction in older adults (HAROLD) has been reported in previous imaging studies that employed not only cognitive, but also motor tasks. However, whether age-related reductions in asymmetry of hemispheric activations affect the symmetry of motor behavior in older adults remains largely untested. We now examine the effect of aging on lateralization of motor adaptation and transfer by investigating adaptation to novel visuomotor transformations in both old and young age groups. We have previously reported substantial asymmetries in interlimb transfer of learning these transformations in young adults, and attributed these asymmetries in transfer to hemispheric lateralization for motor control, as detailed by our dynamic dominance hypothesis. Based on the HAROLD model, we reasoned that older adults should recruit more symmetrical hemispheric activity, and thus show more symmetrical transfer of adaptation across the arms. Half of the subjects in each age group first adapted to a rotated visual display with the left arm, then with the right arm; and the other half in the reversed order. Naïve performance with one arm and the same-arm performance following opposite arm adaptation were compared to determine the extent of transfer in each age group. Our results showed that interlimb transfer of initial direction information only occurred from the nondominant to dominant arm in young adults, whereas it occurred in both directions in older adults. Our findings clearly indicate substantially reduced asymmetry in visuomotor adaptation in older adults, and suggest that this reduced motor asymmetry might be related to diminished hemispheric lateralization for motor control.
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