, 38:45 | Cite as

Manual aiming in healthy aging: does proprioceptive acuity make the difference?

  • Werner F. Helsen
  • Florian Van Halewyck
  • Oron Levin
  • Matthieu P. Boisgontier
  • Ann Lavrysen
  • Digby Elliott


The present study examines whether non-active older adults are more dependent on visual information when executing aiming movements and whether age-related declines in proprioception play a mediating role herein. Young (N = 40) and older adults (N = 38) were divided into physically active and non-active subgroups based on self-reported sports participation levels. In experiment 1, participants executed wrist-aiming movements with and without visual feedback. In experiment 2, passive proprioceptive acuity was assessed using wrist motion detection and position matching tests. Results showed similar aiming accuracy across age groups both with and without visual feedback, but older adults exhibited longer movement times, prolonged homing-in phase, and made more corrective submovements. Passive proprioceptive acuity was significantly affected by physical activity level and age, with participants in the active group scoring better than their non-active peers. However, these declines did not predict performance changes on the aiming task. Taken together, our observations suggest that decline in proprioceptive acuity did not predict performance changes on the aiming task and older adults were able to compensate for their decreased motion and position sense when allowed sufficient time. In line with these observations, we proposed that older adults are able to compensate for their decline in proprioception by increasing their reliance on predictive models.


Aging Physical activity Motor control Visual feedback Proprioception Aiming performance 



Werner F. Helsen and Florian Van Halewyck would like to acknowledge the KU Leuven Research Council for financially supporting this research project. Matthieu P. Boisgontier is supported by a research grant (1504015N) and a post-doctoral fellowship of the Research Foundation—Flanders (FWO). The authors also wish to thank Ig. Marc Beirinckx and Ig. Paul Meugens for providing invaluable guidance in designing the research equipment.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11357_2016_9908_MOESM1_ESM.docx (61 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 61 kb)


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Copyright information

© American Aging Association 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Werner F. Helsen
    • 1
  • Florian Van Halewyck
    • 1
  • Oron Levin
    • 1
  • Matthieu P. Boisgontier
    • 1
  • Ann Lavrysen
    • 1
  • Digby Elliott
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Kinesiology, Movement Control and Neuroplasticity Research GroupKU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.Research Institute for Sport and Exercise SciencesLiverpool John Moores UniversityLiverpoolUK
  3. 3.Department of KinesiologyMcMaster UniversityOntorioCanada

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