A comparison of prehension force control in young and elderly individuals

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Age-related changes were investigated in the control of precision grip force during the lifting and holding of objects with slippery (silk) and nonslippery (sandpaper) surface textures. Two groups of active elderly adults comprising individuals aged 69–79 years (n = 10), and 80–93 years (n = 10) together with a group of young adults aged 18–32 years (n = 10) participated in the study. Each subject lifted a free weight (3N) during which time gripping and lifting forces were monitored. The elderly subjects, especially the individuals in the 81–93 year group, had a larger number of fluctuations in the grip force rate curve and longer force application time than the younger subjects during lifting. The effect of prior experience with one surface on the following different surface was more pronounced in the younger subjects than the elderly subjects. These results suggest a decline in programmed force production capacity with increased age. The fingers of the elderly subjects were more slippery and they exhibited a greater safety margin of the grip force while holding the object than the younger adults. The overall results demonstrated that precision grip force control capacity declines with advancing age. It is suggested that this decline is due mainly to age-related changes in skin properties, and cutaneous sensibility functions, and in part to central nervous system function.