PhD Projects 2020-21
Chronic pain rehabilitation
Supervisor: Prof Kevin E. Vowles (email@example.com)
Aims: Chronic pain is common, costly, and highly debilitating. While behavioral treatments for chronic pain have evidence of effect, a number of factors continue to inhibit success. This PhD will examine factors that relate to treatment success and failure across treatment facilities in Northern Ireland, including both intensive interdisciplinary programs and community level interventions. The overarching theme will be to examine predictors of treatment success and failure with a view towards implementing best practice guidelines for pain treatment services.
Title: Measuring effects of ageing on cortical activity during sensory integration and posture-cognitive multitasking using functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS).
Supervisor: Dr Mihalis Doumas (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Overviews and Aims: Populations around the world are rapidly ageing, with 29% of people expected to be over 65 by 2050. A key issue in ageing research is decline in postural control and falls, because falls lead to hip fractures, loss of independence and in many cases death, and cost the NHS £2.3 billion every year. Two key aspects of age-related decline in postural control are sensory integration and posture-cognitive multitasking. Sensory integration is challenged when people step into a new environment (e.g. a boat). When this happens older adults show a greater increase in instability compared to young adults, both when the environment becomes unreliable, but even more so, and for longer when the reliable environment (e.g. land) is restored. This evidence reflects age-related slowing in integrating sensory information which is critical for fall prevention. Postural control is also challenged when it is performed in a multitask setting, because while standing we also perform other tasks like talking, or checking our phone. For this reason postural control is often assessed in a posture-cognitive multitask context in which participants perform individual tasks separately (posture, memory) and then concurrently. Young and older adults behave very differently during multitasking, with young adults focusing primarily on the cognitive task and older adults focusing on posture (posture-first strategy) especially when instability increases to avoid falls. Even though previous research has assessed these two challenged behaviourally, little is known about brain mechanisms of postural control in older adults. This is because many neuroimaging techniques cannot be used during standing and walking. However, a recently developed neuroimaging technique, functional Near InfraRed Spectroscopy (fNIRS) can be used to investigate metabolic activity in cortical areas involved in these tasks. The aim of this PhD project is to assess age-related changes in brain function during sensory integration and posture-cognitive multitasking using fNIRS.