Mobility changes in older age
: neuropsychological, neurophysiological and cognitive predictors of successful adaptation in a real world scenario

  • Jennifer Geraghty

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The aims of this thesis were to investigate the neuropsychological, neurophysiological, and cognitive contributors to mobility changes with increasing age. In a series of studies with adults aged 45-88 years, unsafe pedestrian behaviour and falls were investigated in relation toi) cognitive functions (including response time variability, executive function, and visual attention tests), ii) mobility assessments (including gait and balance and using motion capture cameras), iii) motor initiation and pedestrian road crossing behavior (using a simulated pedestrian road scene), iv) neuronal and functional brain changes (using a computer based crossing task with magnetoencephalography), and v) quality of life questionnaires (includingfear of falling and restricted range of travel).Older adults are more likely to be fatally injured at the far-side of the road compared to the near-side of the road, however, the underlying mobility and cognitive processes related to lane-specific (i.e. near-side or far-side) pedestrian crossing errors in older adults is currently unknown. The first study explored cognitive, motor initiation, and mobility predictors of unsafe pedestrian crossing behaviours. The purpose of the first study (Chapter 2) was to determine whether collisions at the near-side and far-side would be differentially predicted by mobility indices (such as walking speed and postural sway), motor initiation, and cognitive function (including spatial planning, visual attention, and within participant variability) with increasing age. The results suggest that near-side unsafe pedestrian crossing errors are relatedto processing speed, whereas far-side errors are related to spatial planning difficulties. Both near-side and far-side crossing errors were related to walking speed and motor initiation measures (specifically motor initiation variability). The salient mobility predictors of unsafe pedestrian crossings determined in the above study were examined in Chapter 3 in conjunction with the presence of a history of falls. The purpose of this study was to determine the extent to which walking speed (indicated as a salient predictor of unsafe crossings and start-up delay in Chapter 2), and previous falls can be predicted and explained by age-related changes in mobility and cognitive function changes(specifically within participant variability and spatial ability). 53.2% of walking speed variance was found to be predicted by self-rated mobility score, sit-to-stand time, motor initiation, and within participant variability. Although a significant model was not found to predict fall history variance, postural sway and attentional set shifting ability was found to be strongly related to the occurrence of falls within the last year.Next in Chapter 4, unsafe pedestrian crossing behaviour and pedestrian predictors (both mobility and cognitive measures) from Chapter 2 were explored in terms of increasing hemispheric laterality of attentional functions and inter-hemispheric oscillatory beta power changes associated with increasing age. Elevated beta (15-35 Hz) power in the motor cortexprior to movement, and reduced beta power post-movement has been linked to age-related changes in mobility. In addition, increasing recruitment of both hemispheres has been shown to occur and be beneficial to perform similarly to younger adults in cognitive tasks (Cabeza, Anderson, Locantore, & McIntosh, 2002). It has been hypothesised that changes in hemispheric neural beta power may explain the presence of more pedestrian errors at the farsideof the road in older adults. The purpose of the study was to determine whether changes in age-related cortical oscillatory beta power and hemispheric laterality are linked to unsafe pedestrian behaviour in older adults. Results indicated that pedestrian errors at the near-side are linked to hemispheric bilateralisation, and neural overcompensation post-movement, 4 whereas far-side unsafe errors are linked to not employing neural compensation methods(hemispheric bilateralisation). Finally, in Chapter 5, fear of falling, life space mobility, and quality of life in old age were examined to determine their relationships with cognition, mobility (including fall history andpedestrian behaviour), and motor initiation. In addition to death and injury, mobility decline (such as pedestrian errors in Chapter 2, and falls in Chapter 3) and cognition can negatively affect quality of life and result in activity avoidance. Further, number of falls in Chapter 3 was not significantly linked to mobility and cognition alone, and may be further explained bya fear of falling. The objective of the above study (Study 2, Chapter 3) was to determine the role of mobility and cognition on fear of falling and life space mobility, and the impact on quality of life measures. Results indicated that missing safe pedestrian crossing gaps (potentially indicating crossing anxiety) and mobility decline were consistent predictors of fear of falling, reduced life space mobility, and quality of life variance. Social community(total number of close family and friends) was also linked to life space mobility and quality of life. Lower cognitive functions (particularly processing speed and reaction time) were found to predict variance in fear of falling and quality of life in old age.Overall, the findings indicated that mobility decline (particularly walking speed or walking difficulty), processing speed, and intra-individual variability in attention (including motor initiation variability) are salient predictors of participant safety (mainly pedestrian crossing errors) and wellbeing with increasing age. More research is required to produce a significant model to explain the number of falls.
Date of Award14 Jun 2016
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorCarol A Holland (Supervisor), Paul Furlong (Supervisor), Kim S Rochelle (Supervisor) & Stephen D Hall (Supervisor)


  • ageing
  • mobility
  • frailty
  • pedestrian crossings
  • falls
  • cognition
  • magnetoencephalography
  • beta power
  • hemispheric lateralisation
  • fear of falling
  • life space
  • quality of life

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