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Visual-Somatosensory Integration and Balance: Evidence for Psychophysical Integrative Differences in Aging

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Research detailing multisensory integration (MSI) processes in aging and their association with clinically relevant outcomes is virtually non-existent. To our knowledge, the relationship between MSI and balance has not been well-established in aging. Given known alterations in unisensory processing with increasing age, the aims of the current study were to determine differential behavioral patterns of MSI in aging and investigate whether MSI was significantly associated with balance and fall-risk. Seventy healthy older adults (M=75 years; 58% female) participated in the current study. Participants were instructed to make speeded responses to visual, somatosensory, and visual-somatosensory (VS) stimuli. Based on reaction times (RTs) to all stimuli, participants were classified into one of two groups (MSI or NO MSI), depending on their MSI RT benefit. Static balance was assessed using mean unipedal stance time. Overall, results revealed that RTs to VS stimuli were significantly shorter than those elicited to constituent unisensory conditions. Further, the current experimental design afforded differential patterns of multisensory processing, with 75% of the elderly sample demonstrating multisensory enhancements. Interestingly, 25% of older adults did not demonstrate multisensory RT facilitation; a finding that was attributed to extremely fast RTs overall and specifically in response to somatosensory inputs. Individuals in the NO MSI group maintained significantly better unipedal stance times and reported less falls, compared to elders in the MSI group. This study reveals the existence of differential patterns of multisensory processing in aging, while describing the clinical translational value of MSI enhancements in predicting balance and falls risk.

Affiliations: 1: 1The Department of Neurology, Division of Cognitive and Motor Aging, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, 1165 Morris Park Avenue, Room 304, Bronx, NY 10461, USA


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