Effects of aging on hand function

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2001 Nov;49(11):1478-84. doi: 10.1046/j.1532-5415.2001.4911240.x.


Objectives: The purpose of this study was to quantify age-induced changes in handgrip and finger-pinch strength, ability to maintain a steady submaximal finger pinch force and pinch posture, speed in relocating small objects with finger grip, and ability to discriminate two identical mechanical stimuli applied to the finger tip.

Design: A cross-sectional study.

Settings: Greater Cleveland area of Ohio.

Participants: Healthy, independent, young (n = 27, range 20-35 years) and older (n = 28, range 65-79 years) subjects.

Measurements: Handgrip strength, maximum pinch force (MPF), ability to maintain a steady pinch force at three relative force levels (5%, 10%, and 20% MPF) and three absolute force levels (2.5 Newtons (N), 4 N, and 8 N), ability to maintain a precision pinch posture, speed in relocating pegs from a nearby location onto the pegboard, and the shortest distance for discriminating two stimuli were measured in both young and older groups.

Results: Compared with young subjects, the older group's handgrip force was 30% weaker (P < .001), MPF was 26% lower (P < .05), and ability to maintain steady submaximal pinch force and a precision pinch posture was significantly less (P < .05). The time taken to relocate the pegs and the distance needed to discriminate two identical stimuli increased significantly with age (P < .01). The decrease in the ability to maintain steady submaximal pinch force was more pronounced in women than men.

Conclusion: Aging has a degenerative effect on hand function, including declines in hand and finger strength and ability to control submaximal pinch force and maintain a steady precision pinch posture, manual speed, and hand sensation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment*
  • Hand Strength / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Sex Factors
  • Touch / physiology*