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Comparative Study
, 20 (3-4), 271-9

Decline of Tactile Acuity in Aging: A Study of Body Site, Blood Flow, and Lifetime Habits of Smoking and Physical Activity

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Comparative Study

Decline of Tactile Acuity in Aging: A Study of Body Site, Blood Flow, and Lifetime Habits of Smoking and Physical Activity

Joseph C Stevens et al. Somatosens Mot Res.

Abstract

Tactile acuity of 60 older subjects (> or = 65 years) and 19 younger subjects (18-28 years) was assessed by two-point gap thresholds at the upper and lower surfaces of the forefinger, at the upper and lower surfaces of the feet, and at the volar surface of the forearm. The older subjects were assigned to one of four groups of 15 subjects each, depending on reported lifetime habits of physical activity and smoking: (1) active smokers, (2) active nonsmokers, (3) inactive smokers, and (4) inactive nonsmokers. Peripheral blood flow was assessed at the forefinger, foot, and forearm by means of laser-Doppler imaging and skin temperature recordings, under resting conditions and during and after a 5-min exposure to mild cooling (28 degrees C). Consistent with previous studies, tactile acuity thresholds in the foot and finger averaged about 80% higher in the older subjects than in the younger subjects, but only about 22% higher in the forearm. Although the upper surface of the fingertip was more sensitive than the lower surface in both younger and older subjects, the age-related decline in tactile acuity was nearly identical on both sides of the finger and foot. The latter finding refutes the hypothesis that the larger effect of aging in the extremities results from greater physical wear and tear on the contact surfaces of the hands and feet. Self-reported lifetime histories of physical activity and smoking were not significantly associated with measures of cutaneous blood flow or tactile thresholds. Possible reasons for this lack of association are discussed, including the inherent limitations of testing only healthy older subjects, and the concept of "successful aging".

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