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.