The Effect of Aging on Muscular Dynamics Underlying Movement Patterns Changes

  • Vernooij Carlijn A.
  • Rao Guillaume
  • Berton Eric
  • Retornaz Frédérique
  • Temprado Jean-Jacques


Introduction: Aging leads to alterations not only within the complex subsystems of the neuro-musculo-skeletal system, but also in the coupling between them. Here, we studied how aging affects functional reorganizations that occur both within and between the behavioral and muscular levels, which must be coordinated to produce goal-directed movements. Using unimanual reciprocal Fitts' task, we examined the behavioral and muscular dynamics of older adults (74.4 ± 3.7 years) and compared them to those found for younger adults (23.2 ± 2.0 years). Methods: To achieve this objective, we manipulated the target size to trigger a phase transition in the behavioral regime and searched for concomitant signatures of a phase transition in the muscular coordination. Here, muscular coordination was derived by using the method of muscular synergy extraction. With this technique, we obtained functional muscular patterns through non-negative matrix factorization of the muscular signals followed by clustering the resulting synergies. Results: Older adults showed a phase transition in behavioral regime, although, in contrast to young participants, their kinematic profiles did not show a discontinuity. In parallel, muscular coordination displayed two typical signatures of a phase transition, that is, increased variability of coordination patterns and a reorganization of muscular synergies. Both signatures confirmed the existence of muscular reorganization in older adults, which is coupled with change in dynamical regime at behavioral level. However, relative to young adults, transition occurred at lower index of difficulty (ID) in older participants and the reorganization of muscular patterns lasted longer (over multiple IDs). Discussion: This implies that consistent changes occur in coordination processes across behavior and muscle. Furthermore, the repertoire of muscular patterns was reduced and somewhat modified for older adults, relative to young participants. This suggests that aging is not only related to changes in individual muscles (e.g., caused by dynapenia) but also in their coordination.