Eye and hand movement strategies in older adults during a complex reaching task

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Abstract

The kinematics of upper limb movements and the coordination of eye and hand movements are affected by ageing. These age differences are exacerbated when task difficulty is increased, but the exact nature of these differences remains to be established. We examined the performance of 12 older adults (mean age = 74) and 11 younger adults (mean age = 20) on a multi-phase prehension task. Participants had to reach for a target ball with their preferred hand, pick it up and place it in a tray, then reach for a second target ball and place that in the same tray. On half the trials (stabilising condition), participants were required to hold the tray just above the surface of the table with their non-preferred hand and keep it as still as possible. Hand and eye movements were recorded. Older adults took longer to complete their movements and reached lower peak velocities than the younger adults. Group differences were most apparent in the stabilising condition, suggesting that the added complexity had a greater effect on the performance of the older adults than the young. During pickup, older adults preferred to make an eye movement to the next target as soon as possible, but spent longer fixating the current target during placement, when accuracy requirements were higher. These latter observations suggest that older adults employed a task-dependent eye movement strategy, looking quickly to the next target to allow more time for planning and execution when possible, but fixating on their hand and successful placement of the ball when necessary.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) http://www.esrc.ac.uk/for funding the first author’s Ph.D. for which these data were collected.

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Correspondence to Rachel O. Coats.

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Coats, R.O., Fath, A.J., Astill, S.L. et al. Eye and hand movement strategies in older adults during a complex reaching task. Exp Brain Res 234, 533–547 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-015-4474-7

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Keywords

  • Older adults
  • Ageing
  • Prehension
  • Reaching
  • Eye–hand coordination
  • Saccade