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Training Multisensory Processing in Older Adults

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It has been shown that as humans age all sensory systems exhibit diminished function. Interestingly, many of the disabilities associated with aging that may impact the quality of life, such as increased falls, communication disturbances, and memory impairment, may be impacted by changes in the integration of information from multiple sensory modalities. In fact, distractions from unattended or background stimuli in across sensory modalities are consistently increased in aged individuals. The enhanced response to background stimulation is thought to be related to changes in sensory attention that occur with age. Although more susceptible to distractions within or across sensory modalities, elderly subjects actually show greater behavioral performance enhancements when multisensory stimuli carry redundant information. Thus, many age-related sensory deficits could be ameliorated if elderly subjects were able to limit distractions associated with irrelevant sensory cues but retain the benefits associated with redundant multisensory cues. An intervention that reduces elderly subjects' susceptibility to distractions within and across sensory modalities may improve multisensory integration and could have a great impact on quality of life by improving processes such as communication and memory in addition to limiting susceptibility to falls. The studies proposed here will fill this knowledge gap by evaluating multisensory processing in elderly subjects before and after participation in an attention training program. Our primary hypothesis is that attention training lessens distractions associated with incongruent sensory stimuli while retaining behavioral improvements associated with congruent multisensory stimuli. A significant advantage of utilizing behavioral interventions over pharmacologic interventions is that the risk for adverse side-effects is very low. Thus, studies directed at evaluating the clinical efficacy of multisensory training programs could have considerable impact on health care and the quality of life in the elderly.

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