Journal Article

Does Aging Impair the Capacity to Use Stored Visuospatial Information or Online Visual Control to Guide Reach-to-Grasp Reactions Evoked by Unpredictable Balance Perturbation?

Kenneth C. Cheng, Sandra M. McKay, Emily C. King and Brian E. Maki

in The Journals of Gerontology: Series A

Volume 67, issue 11, pages 1238-1245
Published in print November 2012 | ISSN: 1079-5006
Published online April 2012 | e-ISSN: 1758-535X | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gerona/gls116
Does Aging Impair the Capacity to Use Stored Visuospatial Information or Online Visual Control to Guide Reach-to-Grasp Reactions Evoked by Unpredictable Balance Perturbation?

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Background.

Rapid reach-to-grasp reactions are a prevalent response to sudden loss of balance and play an important role in preventing falls. A previous study indicated that young adults are able to guide functionally effective grasping reactions using visuospatial information (VSI) stored in working memory. The present study addressed whether healthy older adults are also able to use “stored” VSI in this manner or are more dependent on “online” visual control.

Methods.

Liquid-crystal goggles were used to force reliance on either stored or online VSI while reaching to grasp a small handhold in response to unpredictable platform perturbations. A motor-driven device varied the handhold location unpredictably for each trial. Twelve healthy older adults (65–79 years) were compared with 12 young adults (19–29 years) tested in a previous study.

Results.

Reach-to-grasp reactions were slower and more variable in older adults, regardless of the nature of the available VSI. When forced to rely on stored VSI, both age groups showed a reduction in reach accuracy; however, a tendency to undershoot the handhold was exacerbated in the older adults. Forced reliance on online VSI led to similar delays in both age groups; however, the older adults were more likely to reach with the “wrong” limb (contralateral to the handhold) and/or raise both arms initially (possibly to “buy” more time for final limb selection).

Conclusion.

Situations that force the central nervous system to rely on either stored or online VSI tend to exacerbate age-related reductions in speed and accuracy of reach-to-grasp balance-recovery reactions. Further work is needed to determine if this increases risk of falling in daily life.

Keywords: Arm movements; Postural balance; Spatial working memory; Triggered reactions; Vision

Journal Article.  5594 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Geriatric Medicine ; Public Health ; Biological Sciences ; Molecular and Cell Biology ; Neuroscience

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