Preserved multisensory body representations in advanced age

Sci Rep. 2019 Feb 25;9(1):2663. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-39270-7.


The internal representation of the body emerges via the integration of multisensory body cues. Sensory signal transfer and the ability to integrate multisensory information deteriorate significantly with increasing age. However, there is little empirical evidence on age-related changes in body representations based on multisensory integration. Here, we used a standard paradigm for evaluating body representations based on multisensory integration, the rubber hand illusion, and compared the amount of proprioceptive drift and changes in perceived body ownership triggered by the integration of visual, tactile, and proprioceptive cues between younger and older adults. To account for potential age-related differences in the temporal stability of the illusion, proprioceptive drift was measured at five different time points. Our results show that older adults used synchronous visuo-tactile cues similarly to younger adults to update both the position of their own hand, and their feeling of ownership over the artificial hand. Independent of visuo-tactile synchrony, older adults perceived their hand as closer to their body than younger adults did, and showed a less stable representation of this in-depth hand position. This proprioceptive bias towards the body did not correlate with the strength of the illusion. Our results indicate that the integration of visual and tactile cues is largely preserved in advanced age when used to update limb position, whereas proprioception worsens with age. This may be linked to two different pathways that underlie changes in body representations over the life span.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Image*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Perception*
  • Proprioception
  • Young Adult