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Robotic assessment of the influence of age on upper-limb sensorimotor function

Authors LLinares A, Badesa FJ, Morales R, Garcia-Aracil N, Sabater JM, Fernandez E

Received 11 April 2013

Accepted for publication 13 May 2013

Published 10 July 2013 Volume 2013:8 Pages 879—888


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Ana LLinares, Francisco Javier Badesa, Ricardo Morales, Nicolas Garcia-Aracil, JM Sabater, Eduardo Fernandez

Biomedical Neuroengineering, Universidad Miguel Hernández de Elche, Elche, Spain

Purpose: This paper examines the influence of age on several attributes of sensorimotor performance while performing a reaching task. Our hypothesis, based on previous studies, is that aged persons will show differences in one or more of the attributes of sensorimotor performance.
Patients and methods: Fifty-one subjects (aged 20–80 years) with no known neuromotor disorders of the upper limbs participated in the study. Subjects were asked to grasp the end-effector of a pneumatic robotic device with two degrees of freedom in order to reach peripheral targets (1.0 cm radius), "quickly and accurately", from a centrally located target (1.0 cm radius). Subjects began each trial by holding the hand within the central target for 2000 milliseconds. Afterwards, a peripheral target was illuminated. Then participants were given 3000 milliseconds to complete the movement. When a target was reached, the participant had to return to the central target in order to start a new trial. A total of 64 trials were completed and each peripheral target was illuminated in a random block design.
Results: Subjects were divided into three groups according to age: group 1 (age 20–40 years), group 2 (age 41–60 years), and group 3 (age 61–80 years). The Kruskal–Wallis test showed significant differences (P < 0.05) between groups, except for the variables postural speed in the dominant arm, and postural speed and initial deviation in the non-dominant arm (P > 0.05). These results suggest that age introduces significant differences in upper-limb motor function.
Conclusion: Our findings show that there are objective differences in sensorimotor function due to age, and that these differences are greater for the dominant arm. Therefore for the assessment of upper-limb function, we should take into account the influence of age. Moreover, these results suggest that robotic systems can provide a new and effective approach in the assessment of sensorimotor function.

Keywords: aging, sensorimotor function, robotics, rehabilitation

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