Falls and multisensory processing: exploring multisensory perception as a potential rehabilitation avenue for fall-prone older adults

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O'Brien, Jessica
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University College Cork
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Population ageing and global goals of striving for healthy ageing for our older citizens coincides with rapid developments in multisensory research. Research demonstrating older adults rely more on multisensory inputs compared to younger individuals, as well as mounting evidence linking multisensory processing abilities to cognitive and functional ageing present exciting possibilities for novel intervention and prevention avenues for healthy ageing. This thesis focuses on making initial steps to bridge the gap in translating multisensory research into real world outcomes. Firstly, we present the first systematic review of the evidence base for training multisensory integration. We found 26 studies which collectively show multisensory integration can be trained (i.e., temporal acuity or task performance improved) in younger and older adults. Two training approaches were identified in the literature; psychophysics-based perceptual training and exercise/movement-based training. The review highlighted gaps in our knowledge of training multisensory processing, including issues of generalisability and the dearth of training studies with older individuals. An experimental study was conducted that took a perceptual training paradigm previously successful with young adults and replicated this with a sample of community-dwelling older adults, finding training had benefits for an older population also. Next, we sought to further explore the link between multisensory temporal integration and functional ageing, focusing on the case of falls in older adults. Based on the systematic review’s finding that few training studies included clinical outcome measurements and that no study has explored the effect of existing falls interventions on multisensory processing, a study protocol was devised to address these gaps in the literature. Pilot data are presented for this experimental study focused on exploring the impact of a programme of Physiotherapist-led exercise on behavioural and neurophysiological measures of multisensory integration in older fallers. This work highlighted a number of methodological barriers to conducting Electroencephalography research with this population, including data contamination and selection of appropriate outcome measurements. A complementary qualitative investigation garnered insights from older fallers who participated in the experiment and aimed to explore their views of being a research participant. This work highlighted older fallers’ motivations for and barriers to research participation, as well as providing meaningful insights into their conceptualisation of their falls. This thesis as a whole provides novel experimental data and qualitative insights, contributing to aspects underexplored in the field of multisensory research and ageing. The work has implications for future research aiming to fulfil the clinical-translational value of multisensory and ageing research, specifically in relation to interventions targeting multisensory processing and research involving fall-prone older adults.
Multisensory processing , Ageing , Falls
O'Brien, J. 2022. Falls and multisensory processing: exploring multisensory perception as a potential rehabilitation avenue for fall-prone older adults. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.