Age-related changes in the bimanual advantage and in brain oscillatory activity during tapping movements suggest a decline in processing sensory reafference

Sallard, Etienne ; Spierer, Lucas ; Ludwig, Catherine ; Deiber, Marie-Pierre ; Barral, Jérôme

In: Experimental Brain Research, 2014, vol. 232, no. 2, p. 469-479

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    Deficits in the processing of sensory reafferences have been suggested as accounting for age-related decline in motor coordination. Whether sensory reafferences are accurately processed can be assessed based on the bimanual advantage in tapping: because of tapping with an additional hand increases kinesthetic reafferences, bimanual tapping is characterized by a reduced inter-tap interval variability than unimanual tapping. A suppression of the bimanual advantage would thus indicate a deficit in sensory reafference. We tested whether elderly indeed show a reduced bimanual advantage by measuring unimanual (UM) and bimanual (BM) self-paced tapping performance in groups of young (n=29) and old (n=27) healthy adults. Electroencephalogram was recorded to assess the underlying patterns of oscillatory activity, a neurophysiological mechanism advanced to support the integration of sensory reafferences. Behaviorally, there was a significant interaction between the factors tapping condition and age group at the level of the inter-tap interval variability, driven by a lower variability in BM than UM tapping in the young, but not in the elderly group. This result indicates that in self-paced tapping, the bimanual advantage is absent in elderly. Electrophysiological results revealed an interaction between tapping conditionand age group on low beta band (14-20Hz) activity. Beta activity varied depending on the tapping condition in the elderly but not in the young group. Source estimations localized this effect within left superior parietal and left occipital areas. We interpret our results in terms of engagement of different mechanisms in the elderly depending on the tapping mode: a ‘kinesthetic' mechanism for UM and a ‘visual imagery' mechanism for BM tapping movement.