Visuomotor adaptation of voluntary step initiation in older adults

Shih Chiao Tseng, Steven J. Stanhope, Susanne M. Morton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has been suggested that feedforward planning of gait and posture is diminished in older adults. Motor adaptation is one mechanism by which feedforward commands can be updated or fine-tuned. Thus, if feedforward mechanisms are diminished in older adults, motor adaptation is also likely to be limited. The purpose of the study was to compare the ability of healthy older versus young adults in generating a voluntary stepping motor adaptation in response to a novel visual sensory perturbation. We recorded stepping movements from 18 healthy older and 18 young adults during baseline and adaptation stepping blocks. During baseline, the stepping target remained stationary; in adaptation, a visual perturbation was introduced by shifting the target laterally during mid-step. We compared adaptation between groups, measured by improvements in endpoint accuracy and movement duration. Older adults adapted stepping accuracy similarly to young adults (accuracy improvement: 29.7 ± 27.6% vs. 37.3 ± 22.9%, older vs. young group respectively, p = 0.375), but showed significant slowness during movement. Thus older adults were able to achieve accuracy levels nearly equivalent to younger adults, but only at the expense of movement speed, at least during the early adaptation period (movement duration: 1143.7 ± 170.6 ms vs. 956.0 ± 74.6 ms, p < 0.001). With practice, however, they were able to reduce movement times and gain speed and accuracy to levels similar to young adults. These findings suggest older adults may retain the ability for stepping adaptations to environmental changes or novel demands, given sufficient practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)180-184
Number of pages5
JournalGait and Posture
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Balance
  • Elderly
  • Falls
  • Gait
  • Motor learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation


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