A strategy of faster movements used by elderly humans to lift objects of increasing weight in ecological context

Neuroscience. 2017 Aug 15;357:384-399. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2017.04.010. Epub 2017 Apr 18.


It is not known whether, during the course of aging, changes occur in the motor strategies used by the CNS for lifting objects of different weights. Here, we analyzed the kinematics of object-lifting in two different healthy groups (young and elderly people) plus one well-known deafferented patient (GL). The task was to reach and lift onto a shelf an opaque cylindrical object with changing weight. The movements of the hand and object were recorded with electromagnetic sensors. In an ecological context (i.e. no instruction was given about movement speed), we found that younger participants, elderly people and GL did not all move at the same speed and that, surprisingly, elder people are faster. We also observed that the lifting trajectories were constant for both the elderly and the deafferented patient while younger participants raised their hand higher when the object weighed more. It appears that, depending on age and on available proprioceptive information, the CNS uses different strategies of lifting. We suggest that elder people tend to optimize their feedforward control in order to compensate for less functional afferent feedback, perhaps to optimize movement time and energy expenditure at the expense of high precision. In the case of complete loss of proprioceptive input, however, compensation follows a different strategy as suggested by GL's behavior who moved more slowly compared to both our younger and older participants.

Keywords: aging; deafferentation; motor control; proprioception.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging* / physiology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Demyelinating Diseases / physiopathology
  • Hand* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lifting*
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Neurological
  • Motor Activity* / physiology
  • Proprioception* / physiology
  • Young Adult