Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 236, Issue 8, pp 2347–2362 | Cite as

The effect of aging and contextual information on manual asymmetry in tool use

  • Tea Lulic
  • Jacquelyn M. Maciukiewicz
  • David A. Gonzalez
  • Eric A. Roy
  • Clark R. DickersonEmail author
Research Article


Healthy aging affects manual asymmetries in simple motor tasks, such as unilateral reaching and aiming. The effects of aging on manual asymmetries in the performance of a complex, naturalistic task are unknown, but are relevant for investigating the praxis system. This study examined how aging influences manual asymmetry in different contexts in a tool manipulation task. Fifty healthy, right-hand-dominant young (N = 29; 21.41 ± 2.87 years), and elderly (N = 21; mean: 74.14 ± 6.64 years) participants performed a ‘slicing’ gesture in response to a verbal command in two contexts: with (tool) and without the tool (pantomime). For interjoint relationships between shoulder plane of elevation and elbow flexion, a HAND × AGE × CONTEXT interaction existed (F1,43 = 4.746, p = 0.035). In pantomime, interjoint control deviated more in the left (non-dominant) than the right (dominant) limb in the elderly adult group (Wilcoxon, p = 0.010). No such differences existed in the young adult group (Wilcoxon, p = 0.471). Furthermore, contextual information reduced interjoint deviation in young adults when the task was performed with the right (dominant) hand (Wilcoxon, p = 0.001) and in the elderly adults when the task was performed with the left (non-dominant) hand (Wilcoxon, p = 0.012). The presence of the tool did not reduce interjoint deviation for the right hand in the elderly group (Wilcoxon, p = 0.064) or the left hand in the young group (Wilcoxon, p = 0.044). Deviation within trials (i.e., intrasubject deviation) in elbow flexion was higher in the elderly relative to the young adult group (p = 0.003). Finally, resultant peak velocities were smaller (p = 0.002) and cycle duration longer (p < 0.0001) in the elderly adult group. This study provides novel evidence that aging affects manual asymmetries and sensorimotor control in a naturalistic task and warrants that aging research considers the context in which the task is performed.


Manual asymmetry Aging Contextual information Pantomime Tool use Praxis 



Thank you to all participants in the study and K. Kuryllo for the assistance in programming.


This project was partially funded through Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant held by corresponding author, 311895-2016, and by a grant from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario to E. Roy. Equipment used in the grant was funded through combined support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research Fund. Dr. Dickerson is also funded through an NSERC Canada Research Chair in Shoulder Mechanics.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tea Lulic
    • 1
  • Jacquelyn M. Maciukiewicz
    • 1
  • David A. Gonzalez
    • 1
  • Eric A. Roy
    • 1
  • Clark R. Dickerson
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of KinesiologyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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