Efficient control of arm movements in advanced age

Gyusung Lee, Laetitia Fradet, Caroline J. Ketcham, Natalia Dounskaia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The present study addresses the influence of aging on the ability to regulate mechanical effects arising during arm movements due to the multi-joint structure of the arm. Two mechanical factors were considered, interaction torque (IT) and inertial resistance (IR). Regulation of these two factors can be demanding in terms of the timing and magnitude of the required muscle torque (MT), specifically during fast movements. We hypothesized that aging exacerbates the challenge regarding the regulation of these effects with muscular control due to declines in the motor system. This hypothesis was tested by comparing performance of a cyclic line-drawing task in two age groups, young and older adults. Only two joints, the shoulder and elbow, participated in motion. Four orientations of the lines were used to provide variations in the requirements for regulation of IT and IR. Cyclic frequency was manipulated to emphasize the dependence of the mechanical factors on movement speed. Various characteristics of fingertip motion showed that there were no age-related deteriorations in accuracy of line drawing. However, older adults were systematically slower, particularly in the directions of high IR. A detailed analysis of the magnitude of MT and the contribution of this torque to production of net torque at each joint demonstrated that older adults modified joint control and decreased the demands for MT by skillful exploitation of IT in a way specific for each particular line orientation. The results point to a tendency in older adults to decrease the production of muscle force. Nevertheless, older adults also demonstrated an ability to partially compensate for declines in the force production by developing sophisticated strategies of joint control that exploit the multi-joint mechanical structure of the arm. This ability suggests that the internal representation of inter-segmental dynamics and the capability to use it for movement control does not decay with age. The study emphasizes the importance of analysis of joint motion and control characteristics for the investigation of arm movements and for comparison of these movements between different subject populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-94
Number of pages17
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2007


  • Aging
  • Arm movement
  • Force production
  • Joint control
  • Multi-joint

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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