Multisensory Processes in Cases of Falls and Cognitive Decline with Ageing
It appears effortless, navigating our way through and making sense of the world around us is no mean feat. It requires the brain to constantly combine the information it is receiving from the eyes, ears and body’s position to name a few. This merging of information is called multisensory integration and it is the area I research here at Trinity, particularly its relationship to falls in older adults.
Studies show that falls are a very common problem in older people, with 30% of those over the age of 65 having a fall every year. They are the leading cause of mortality caused by injury in people over 75, yet very little is understood about their underlying causes and this is where my research comes into play.
Annalisa Setti, a postdoctoral researcher on the Technology Research for Independent Living Project, says “It has been shown – and it’s intuitive – that older people report a decline in their vision and hearing. So their sensory acuity diminishes with aging. We know now that there is something specific about how information is combined across the different senses in older age.”
One of the things which this new line of research may help us to understand is falls.
Research shows that older adults get a larger benefit from combining different senses than young people do. For example, if an older person cannot hear you, they will often ask you to turn to face them. Here, they can understand what you are saying more clearly, as they can see your lips moving while speaking, in addition to hearing the sound. But it is not always a good thing to combine, because you may start to take in information in the environment which is, in fact, distracting.
These changes in sensory combining may be part of the reason why older people fall, and this is what my research is investigating. The question I am looking at is whether this change could be a contributing factor to why older people fall. I will be investigating the nature of these changes using brain scanning technology such as MRI.
With people living longer than ever before, the ultimate goal of this research is to better understand the perceptual changes occurring with age and how they may impact on a person’s likelihood to fall. This will hopefully contribute to enabling older adults to live independently in wherever they call home.