Effects of ageing on adaptation during vibratory stimulation of the calf and neck muscles

Gerontology. 2009;55(1):82-91. doi: 10.1159/000188114. Epub 2008 Dec 19.


Background: The ability to adapt and habituate based on prior experiences is important for human movement control, fall prevention and for the ability to enhance performance during various human activities. However, little is known about the ability for the elderly to adapt to balance perturbations in the lateral direction.

Objective: To determine whether adaptation, i.e., the ability to adjust postural control to handle balance perturbations better over time, differed in the elderly subjects compared with young subjects in the anteroposterior and lateral directions, and whether the site of the balance perturbation or the presence or absence of vision affected the response.

Methods: Postural stability was measured as anteroposterior and lateral torque variance in a young group (n = 18 (9 female and 9 male), average age = 29.1 years) and an elderly group (n = 16 (5 female and 11 male), average age = 71.5 years) with eyes open and closed during balance perturbations from calf and neck vibrations. After a 30-s period of quiet stance, these vibrations were repeated over a period of 200 s, so the adaptive responses could be analyzed by splitting the data into 50-s periods.

Results: The adaptive responses in the anteroposterior and lateral directions were different. Adaptation in the anteroposterior direction occurred to an almost equal extent in the elderly and young, whereas adaptation in the lateral direction was markedly larger in the elderly in all tests except for neck vibration with eyes closed. Age, vision and vibration site were all influential factors for recorded body movements, but no significant combined effects were found.

Conclusion: Balance perturbation instigates an adaptive response in the elderly in both the anteroposterior and lateral directions. However, during perturbation, age and vision are both very influential factors for the stability, thus associating the previously documented age-related decline in visual functioning with a higher risk of falls in this age range.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leg
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Neck Muscles / physiology
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Vibration / adverse effects*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology
  • Young Adult