Proprioceptive deficits in inactive older adults are not reflected in fast targeted reaching movements

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


External organisations

  • Department of Speech and Hearing Science, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.
  • Department of Psychology, Peking University, Beijing, China ; School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK.


During normal healthy ageing there is a decline in the ability to control simple movements, characterised by increased reaction times, movement durations and variability. There is also growing evidence of age-related proprioceptive loss which may contribute to these impairments. However, this relationship has not been studied in detail for the upper limb. We recruited 20 younger adults (YAs) and 31 older adults (OAs) who each performed 2 tasks on a 2D robotic manipulandum. The first assessed dynamic proprioceptive acuity using active, multi-joint movements constrained by the robot to a pre-defined path. Participants made perceptual judgements of the lateral position of the unseen arm. The second task required fast, accurate and discrete movements to the same targets in the absence of visual feedback of the hand, and without robotic intervention. We predicted that the variable proprioceptive error (uncertainty range) assessed in Task 1 would be increased in physically inactive OAs and would predict increased movement variability in Task 2. Instead we found that physically inactive OAs had larger systematic proprioceptive errors (bias) than YAs (t[33] = 2.8, p = 0.009), and neither proprioceptive uncertainty nor bias was related to motor performance in either age group (all regression model R2 ≤ 0.06). We suggest that previously reported estimates of proprioceptive decline with ageing may be exaggerated by task demands and that the extent of these deficits is unrelated to control of discrete, rapid movement. The relationship between dynamic proprioceptive acuity and movement control in other tasks with greater emphasis on online feedback is still unclear and warrants further investigation.


Original languageEnglish
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Early online date26 Nov 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Nov 2018


  • Ageing, Proprioception, Reaching, Sensorimotor control