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Ageing of the postural vertical

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A postural vertical (PV) tilted backward has been put forward as a reason explaining the backward disequilibrium often observed in elderly fallers. This raises the question of a possible ageing process of the PV involving a backward tilt of verticality perception increasing with age. We have explored this hypothesis by measuring PV in pitch using the wheel paradigm in 87 healthy subjects aged from 20 to 97 years. The possibility that this physiological ageing accelerated in the second part of life was also analysed. Two indices were calculated: the mean orientation (PV-orient) and the dispersion (PV-uncert). The correlation between age and PV-orient was r = −0.2 (p < 0.05). Added to the fact that PV was twice as shifted backward in the 38 seniors over 50 years (−1.15° ± 1.40°) as in the 49 young adults under 50 years (−0.45° ± 0.97°; t = 2.75, p < 0.01), this indicates the existence of a physiological ageing process on the direction perceived as vertical by the whole body, with a slight backward shift of PV throughout the life span. The correlation between age and PV-uncert was r = 0.35 (p < 0.001) in all subjects and r = 0.59 (p < 0.001) in seniors. This indicates that subjects get less and less accurate in their perception of the postural vertical with age, especially very old subjects who show great uncertainty in determining with their body the direction of the vertical. Taken together, these findings indicate that the internal model of verticality is less robust in elderly people. This may play a part in their postural decline.

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Correspondence to Guillaume Barbieri.

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Guillaume Barbieri and Anne-Sophie Gissot have contributed equally to the paper

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Barbieri, G., Gissot, A. & Pérennou, D. Ageing of the postural vertical. AGE 32, 51–60 (2010).

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  • Verticality
  • Postural control
  • Subjective vertical
  • Postural vertical
  • Ageing