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Measuring effects of ageing on cortical activity during posture-cognitive multitasking using fNIRS and EEG

PhD project title

Measuring effects of ageing on cortical activity during posture-cognitive multitasking using fNIRS and EEG

Outline description, including interdisciplinary, intersectoral and international dimensions 

Populations around the world are ageing, with 29% of people expected to be over 65 by 2050. A key issue in ageing research is postural control and fall prevention, with falls costing the NHS £2.3 billion/year. In daily life, postural control is often performed in a multitask setting because, when we stand, we usually perform another task like talking or checking our phone. During posture-cognitive multitasking, young adults focus primarily on the cognitive task but older adults focus on posture to avoid falls (posture-first strategy). Even though a large number of studies have assessed age-differences in posture-cognitive interactions, little is known about the brain mechanisms involved. A recently developed technique, functional Near Infra-Red Spectroscopy (fNIRS) can be used to investigate brain activity in cortical areas involved in posture and cognition. This method, in combination with well-established electrophysiological techniques (ElectroEncephaloGraphy, EEG) can provide invaluable information about changes in cortical activity with task complexity and age in this task. Our project aims to assess age differences in brain activity using EEG and fNIRS in posture-cognitive dual-task performance in order to uncover brain-level differences in the way the two age-groups deal with multitasking, especially when postural instability increases. Our results will be valuable for the development of technologies contributing to fall prevention and enhanced quality of life for older adults.

Our project is based on the triple I dimension that is core to Marie Curie: It comprises an interdisciplinary team with supervisors from Psychology (Dr Doumas), and Electrical Engineering (Dr Devereux), includes intersectoral exposure with the student doing a placement in the industrial sector with BrainWaveBank Ltd (Dr Murphy) which will help the student’s personal development. The project will facilitate international collaborations through visits to our collaborators’ laboratories (e.g. Dr Krampe, KU Leuven) and through working closely with BrainWaveBank’s Belfast and Dublin teams.


Key words/descriptors



Postural control, ageing, cognitive, multitasking, brain activity, EEG, fNIRS


Fit to CITI-GENS theme(s)

Our project fits in with three of the CITI-GENS themes. The central aspect of the project fits in with the Life Sciences theme as it aims to assess the fundamental biological process of ageing, and the way ageing affects brain function during multi-task performance. Body movement during balance and brain activity will be recorded and analysed using Information Technology methods and tools. Furthermore,  our project will have an engineering component aiming to integrate EEG and NIRS by developing a portable solution that combines the two techniques which will be developed by working closely with BrainWaveBank, thus demonstrating the project’s commitment to create links between academia and the Creative Industries.


Supervisor Information



First Supervisor: Mihalis Doumas                                                                          School: Psychology

Second Supervisor: Barry Devereaux                                                                   School: EEECS

Third Supervisor: Brian Murphy                                                                            Company: BrainWaveBank

What costs are associated with the project and how will they be funded?


NB: The COFUND research grant supports the financing of student fees and the salary of the ‘Fellows.’ Additional overheads (e.g. specialist training, equipment) are not provided for

Training will be provided in the first supervisor’s laboratory and by BrainWaveBank Ltd. No other costs are associated with the project.


Name of non-HEI partner(s)

Dr Brian Murphy, CSO of BrainWaveBank:

Contribution of non-HEI partner(s) to the project:



A placement in BrainWaveBank Ltd is at the core of our project.

BrainWaveBank Ltd is a rapidly growing company, based in Dublin and Belfast. The company is committed to understanding how people can age healthily and how pathologies can cause abnormal decline. Portable neuroimaging technologies, of which EEG and NIRS are the main candidates are a transformative technology that will enable the objective, reliable detection and tracking of cognitive performance longitudinally, in a self-use and low cost form that will be accessible to at-risk populations around the world. The placement in BrainWaveBank will be essential for the student’s personal development because she/he will be given the opportunity to perform research in both an academic and industrial setting in the same project, and will also be given the opportunity to see the research not only as a scientific research project asking a fundamental research question and but also as an engineering project trying to combine EEG and NIRS by developing a portable headset using the company’s expertise. For more details please see the letter of support provided by BrainWaveBank