Age-related differences in functional tool-use are due to changes in movement quality and not simply motor slowing

Andrew Hooyman, Peiyuan Wang, Sydney Y. Schaefer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Age-related declines in fine motor control may impact tool-use and thereby limit functional independence. Most previous research has, however, focused on the effect of aging on gross motor tasks. Few studies have investigated the effects of aging on the strategy or quality of fine motor skills, especially in tool-use, which may better reflect how age impacts complex movement capability. Twenty-two young (ages 19–35) and 18 older adults (ages 58–87) performed a timed upper extremity task using a tool to acquire and transport objects to different locations. Overall task performance was divided into two phases based on 3-D position of the tool: a gross motor phase (object transport) and a fine motor phase (object acquisition). Overall, older adults took longer to complete the task. A linear model indicated that this was due to the duration of the fine motor phase more so than the gross motor phase. To identify age-related differences in the quality of the fine motor phase, we fit three-dimensional ellipsoids to individual data and the calculated the ellipsoid volume. Results demonstrated a significant volume-by-age interaction, whereby increased ellipsoid volume (space the tool occupied) related to increased mean dwell time for the older adult group only; younger adults did not demonstrate this relationship. Additionally, older adults with longer movement times during the fine motor phase also had lower cognitive scores. No age-related differences were observed for the gross motor phase, suggesting that age-related declines in tool-use may be due to changes in fine motor control and cognitive status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1617-1626
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Cognition
  • Fine Motor Skill
  • Functional Movement
  • Motor Performance
  • Older Adult

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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