Functional motor redundancy enables humans to move with distinct muscle activation patterns while achieving a similar outcome. Since humans select similar strategies, there seems to be an optimal control. However, older adults move differently to young adults. The question is whether this is this due to an altered reinforcement scheme, altered sensory inputs, or due to alterations in the neuromusculoskeletal systems, so that it is no longer optimal or possible to execute the same movement strategies. The aim of this study was to analyse natural compensation strategies in the vital daily-life-task, sit-to-walk, in relation to neuromuscular capacity and movement objectives in younger (27.2 ± 4.6 years, N = 27, 14♀) and elderly (75.9 ± 6.3 years, N = 23, 12♀) adults. Aspects of the neuromuscular system that are prone to age-related decline and feasible to quantify were assessed (i.e. strength, nerve conductivity, fear of falling). Kinematics and muscle activity were recorded and joint kinetics were estimated using biomechanical models. Elderly men consistently used their arms when standing up. This strategy was not associated with a lack of or a reduction in strength, but with a reduction, but no lack of, ankle joint range of motion, and with increased fear of falling. The results show that humans preferentially maintain a minimum threshold of neuromuscular reserve to cope with uncertainties which results in compensation prior to coming up against physical limitations. Smaller base of support while standing up, a compensatory strategy with possibly greater risk of falls, was associated with muscular weakness, and longer nerve conduction latencies.
van der Kruk, E., Strutton, P., Koizia, L.J. et al. Why do older adults stand-up differently to young adults?: investigation of compensatory movement strategies in sit-to-walk. npj Aging 8, 13 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41514-022-00094-x