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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Impaired attentional processing as a risk factor for falls in older adults Nagamatsu, Lindsay


Falls are a leading health care issue in our rapidly aging society. While impaired cognitive functioning has previously been linked to falls, my dissertation aims to understand the specific relationship between attentional processing and falls/falls risk. My dissertation is comprised of four separate studies, each examining a specific facet of attention and its corresponding association with falls. The specific domains of attention that I examine include: 1. Visual-spatial attention in the context of task-irrelevant peripheral stimuli; 2. Dual-task ability under cognitive load using a virtual reality system intended to simulate real-world experiences; 3. Time spent engaged in task-unrelated thoughts (i.e., mind-wandering); and 4. The neural correlates that subserve selective attention and executive control. Using multi-modal measures, including event-related potentials, functional magnetic resonance imaging, and behavioural performance, my research examines how each area of attention is impaired as a function of falls history and/or physiological falls risk. Based on the attentional resource model, my research converges on the notion that falls risk is associated with a reduction in the level of available attentional resources, in addition to an impaired ability to appropriately allocate resources to the primary task. Importantly, such deficits in attentional processing may contribute to postural instability, given that the control of balance and posture require a greater proportion of cognitive resources with age. Taken together, these findings have critical implications for developing novel intervention strategies aimed towards improving quality of life and independence among older adults.

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