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Age-related changes in the joint position sense of the human hand

Authors Kalisch T, Kattenstroth JC, Kowalewski R, Tegenthoff M, Dinse HR

Published Date November 2012 Volume 2012:7 Pages 499—507


Received 31 August 2012, Accepted 14 October 2012, Published 22 November 2012

Tobias Kalisch,1,2,* Jan-Christoph Kattenstroth,2,* Rebecca Kowalewski,2 Martin Tegenthoff,1 Hubert R Dinse2

1Department of Neurology, BG-Kliniken Bergmannsheil, Ruhr-University Bochum, Bochum, Germany; 2Neural Plasticity Lab, Institute for Neuroinformatics, Ruhr-University Bochum, Bochum, Germany

*These authors contributed equally to this work

Abstract: Age-related changes in lower limb joint position sense and their contributions to postural stability are well documented. In contrast, only a few studies have investigated the effect of age on proprioceptive hand function. Here, we introduce a novel test for measuring joint position sense in the fingers of the human hand. In a concurrent matching task, subjects had to detect volume differences between polystyrene balls grasped with their dominant (seven test stimuli: 126–505 cm3) and their nondominant hand (three reference stimuli: 210, 294, and 505 cm3). A total of 21 comparisons were performed to assess the number of errors, the weight of errors (ie, the volume difference between test and reference stimuli), and the direction of errors (ie, over- or underestimation of test stimulus). The test was applied to 45 healthy subjects aged 21 to 79 years. Our results revealed that all variables changed significantly with age, with the number of errors showing the strongest increase. We also assessed tactile acuity (two-point discrimination thresholds) and sensorimotor performance (pegboard performance) in a subset of subjects, but these scores did not correlate with joint position sense performance, indicating that the test reveals specific information about joint position sense that is not captured with pure sensory or motor tests. The average test–retest reliability assessed on 3 consecutive days was 0.8 (Cronbach's alpha). Our results demonstrate that this novel test reveals age-related decline in joint position sense acuity that is independent from sensorimotor performance.

Keywords: aging, hand functions, joint position sense

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