Improvement of sensorimotor functions in old age by passive sensory stimulation
Tobias Kalisch1, Martin Tegenthoff2, Hubert R Dinse1
1Department of Theoretical Biology, Institute for Neuroinformatics; 2Department of Neurology, BG-Kliniken Bergmannsheil, Ruhr-University Bochum, Bochum, Germany
Abstract: Sensorimotor functions decrease in old age. The well-documented loss of tactile acuity in elderly is accompanied by deterioration of haptic performance and fine manipulative movements. Physical training and exercise can maintain sensorimotor fitness into high age. However, regular schedules of training require discipline and physical fitness. We here present an alternative interventional paradigm to enhance tactile, haptic, and fine motor performance based on passive, sensory stimulation by means of tactile coactivation. This approach is based on patterned, synchronous tactile stimulation applied to the fingertips for 3 hours. The stimulation drives plastic reorganizational changes in somatosensory cortex that affect perception and behavior: We demonstrate that following 3 hours of coactivation tactile acuity as well as haptic object exploration and fine motor performance are improved for at least 96 hours. Because this kind of intervention does not require active participation or attention of the subjects, we anticipate that coactivation is a prime candidate for future therapeutic interventions in patients with impaired sensorimotor abilities. It can be assumed that the maintenance and restoration of sensorimotor functions can ensure and preserve independence of daily living. Further optimizing of the stimulation protocol can be assumed to strengthen both the range and durability of its efficacy.
Keywords: aging, tactile acuity, coactivation, cortical plasticity, intervention, sensorimotor performance
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