The way we integrate sensory information changes during the lifespan. Older people rely more on the combination of different senses to compensate for poorer information from each individual sense (e.g. poor eyesight or hearing). However, combining sensory information that needs to be kept separate can lead to mistakes in how we perceive the environment.
Our research programme brings together gerontologists, perceptual and cognitive scientists and engineers to design and build technology which will predict and prevent the onset of perceptual decline with ageing. In our research, we are examining the possible role multisensory perception has on the incidence of falls in older persons. Using technology developed in TRIL, we aim to improve how we diagnose deficits in combining sensory information during ageing. So far, we have found that adults with a history of falling make more mistakes in combining multisensory information than adults of the same age who have no history of falls, suggesting that multisensory efficiency may be an important diagnostic tool for predicting falls. Our findings also suggest that assessment procedures need to develop from the current emphasis on measuring sensory acuity, because falling is only partially linked to eyesight or hearing alone. We have established a series of cross-sectional studies to understand the nature of the deficits in multisensory integration that occur with ageing. These tests assess how the senses are combined in recognising, interacting with and navigating our immediate environment and are performed using TRIL technology by attendees at the TRIL Clinic. Soon, we will develop training routines to improve perceptual abilities using targeted interventions based on multisensory function: we are currently validating a multisensory re-training kit that could be used at home by older people.