Visuomotor adaptation and proprioceptive recalibration in older adults

Exp Brain Res. 2010 Sep;205(4):533-44. doi: 10.1007/s00221-010-2392-2. Epub 2010 Aug 18.


Previous studies have shown that both young and older subjects adapt their reaches in response to a visuomotor distortion. It has been suggested that one's continued ability to adapt to a visuomotor distortion with advancing age is due to the preservation of implicit learning mechanisms, where implicit learning mechanisms include processes that realign sensory inputs (i.e. shift one's felt hand position to match the visual representation). The present study examined this proposal by determining if changes in sense of felt hand position (i.e. proprioceptive recalibration) follow visuomotor adaptation in older subjects. As well, we examined the influence of age on proprioceptive recalibration by comparing young and older subjects' estimates of the position at which they felt their hand was aligned with a visual reference marker before and after aiming with a misaligned cursor that was gradually rotated 30 degrees clockwise of the actual hand location. On estimation trials, subjects moved their hand along a robot-generated constrained pathway. At the end of the movement, a reference marker appeared and subjects indicated if their hand was left or right of the marker. Results indicated that all subjects adapted their reaches at a similar rate and to the same extent across the reaching trials. More importantly, we found that both young and older subjects recalibrated proprioception, such that they felt their hand was aligned with a reference marker when it was approximately 6 degrees more left (or counterclockwise) of the marker following reaches with a rotated cursor. The leftward shift in both young and older subjects' estimates was in the same direction and a third of the extent of adapted movement. Given that the changes in the estimate of felt hand position were only a fraction of the changes observed in the reaching movements, it is unlikely that sensory recalibration was the only source driving changes in reaches. Thus, we propose that proprioceptive recalibration combines with adapted sensorimotor mappings to produce changes in reaching movements. From the results of the present study, it is clear that changes in both sensory and motor systems are possible in older adults and could contribute to the preserved visuomotor adaptation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Proprioception / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Young Adult