J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2013 Aug;68(8):938-45. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glt003. Epub 2013 Feb 5.
BACKGROUND: Visuomotor abnormalities are common in aging and age-related disease, yet difficult to quantify. This study investigated the effects of healthy aging, sex, and handedness on the performance of a tracing task. Participants (n = 150, aged 21-95 years, 75 females) used a stylus to follow a moving target around a circle on a tablet computer with their dominant and nondominant hands. Participants also performed the Trail Making Test (a measure of executive function).
METHODS: Deviations from the circular path were computed to derive an “error” time series. For each time series, absolute mean, variance, and complexity index (a proposed measure of system functionality and adaptability) were calculated. Using the moving target and stylus coordinates, the percentage of task time within the target region and the cumulative micropause duration (a measure of motion continuity) were computed.
RESULTS: All measures showed significant effects of aging (p < .0005). Post hoc age group comparisons showed that with increasing age, the absolute mean and variance of the error increased, complexity index decreased, percentage of time within the target region decreased, and cumulative micropause duration increased. Only complexity index showed a significant difference between dominant versus nondominant hands within each age group (p < .0005). All measures showed relationships to the Trail Making Test (p < .05).
CONCLUSIONS: Measures derived from a tracing task identified performance differences in healthy individuals as a function of age, sex, and handedness. Studies in populations with specific neuromotor syndromes are warranted to test the utility of measures based on the dynamics of tracking a target as a clinical assessment tool.