The effects of Parkinson's disease and age on syncopated finger movements

Elizabeth L. Stegemöller, Tanya Simuni, Colum D. MacKinnon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In young healthy adults, syncopated finger movements (movements between consecutive beats) are characterized by a frequency-dependent change in phase at movement rates near 2 Hz. A similar frequency-dependent phase transition is observed during bimanual anti-phase (asymmetric) tasks in healthy young adults, but this transition frequency is significantly lowered in both patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) and older adults. To date, no study has examined the transition frequency associated with unimanual syncopated movements in patients with PD or older adults. This study examined the effects of movement frequency on the performance of unconstrained syncopated index finger flexion movements in patients with PD, older adult subjects matched to patients with PD, and young adult subjects. Syncopated movements were paced by an acoustic tone that increased in frequency from 1 to 3 Hz in 0.25 Hz increments. Movement phase was quantified and the movement frequency where subjects transitioned from syncopation to synchronization was compared between groups. The principal finding was a marked impairment in the ability of patients with PD to perform syncopated movements when off medication. Medication did not significantly improve performance. In addition, the transition frequency for older adult subjects was lower than young adult subjects. These findings demonstrate that, similar to bimanual tasks, the coordination dynamics associated with unimanual syncopated finger movements transition from a stable to an unstable pattern at significantly lower frequencies in patients with PD and older adults compared to young adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-20
Number of pages9
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - Sep 22 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was supported by NIH Grant R01 NS054199 and a grant from the Parkinson Alliance. We thank Mr. Fang Gao and Dr. Lance Myers for their assistance with the data. We thank the volunteers who participated in this study.


  • Aging
  • Movement frequency
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Syncopation


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