New brain study may boost function and independence of older adults

Ann-Maree Vallence

Brain research that could help older adults carry out daily living tasks more easily, helping them to maintain independence, is being pioneered at Murdoch University.

Dr Ann-Maree Vallence (pictured above) has won a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award to investigate connectivity issues in the ageing brain, and how this relates to the control of movement.

Dr Vallence will also study whether non-invasive brain stimulation can help to improve motor control.

Research already completed on this topic has recently won Dr Vallence a WA Tall Poppy award, and she is excited to develop it further to aid the ability of older adults to remain independent.

“We rarely think about the movements that allow us to go about our busy lives. But as we age, control over these movements declines to the extent that the daily tasks of living become too difficult, and many older adults require help or lose their independence completely,” Dr Vallence said.

“Understanding the links between brain connectivity and movement decline will lead to the development of better treatments for our ageing population, helping to ease the growing social and economic burden of falls and injuries, and helping people with their daily tasks.

“Currently $11 billion annually is spent on aged care services in Australia. Our community is yearning for information about healthy ageing and ways to implement this information to live a healthier life. I’m excited to be able to make a contribution with this project.”

Movement control

Dr Vallence will be working with a cohort of volunteers aged from 18 years on, and will be looking to recruit participants from the local community—sports clubs, bridge clubs, and lifestyle and retirement villages.

She will use a non-invasive brain stimulation technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to examine brain activity while participants are resting, planning to make a movement, and during the actual movement. This will help her to understand how activity in brain networks is important for successful movement control.

Dr Vallence will also use the repeated application of TMS to induce neuroplasticity, which will help her understand how changing the brain can improve movement control.

Dr Vallence has been researching in neuroscience for a decade. Since joining Murdoch University almost four years ago, she has established a human neurophysiology laboratory and been awarded a prestigious National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Early Career Fellowship.

Her work to improve movement control is benefiting the ageing population as well as stroke survivors and people with neurological conditions like Parkinson’s Disease.

She was named as one of WA’s 2018 Tall Poppies by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) for her research achievements and commitment to communicate science and its significance to the broader community.

As part of the Tall Poppy initiative, Dr Vallence will be involved in promoting an interest and engagement in science in the education and community sectors.

Posted on:

4 Dec 2018

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