Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 209, Issue 3, pp 375–384 | Cite as

Is inefficient multisensory processing associated with falls in older people?

  • Annalisa Setti
  • Kate E. Burke
  • Rose Anne Kenny
  • Fiona N. Newell
Research Article


Although falling is a significant problem for older persons, little is understood about its underlying causes. Spatial cognition and balance maintenance rely on the efficient integration of information across the main senses. We investigated general multisensory efficiency in older persons with a history of falls compared to age- and sensory acuity-matched controls and younger adults using a sound-induced flash illusion. Older fallers were as susceptible to the illusion as age-matched, non-fallers or younger adults at a short delay of 70 ms between the auditory and visual stimuli. Both older adult groups were more susceptible to the illusion at longer SOAs than younger adults. However, with increasing delays between the visual and auditory stimuli, older fallers did not show a decline in the frequency at which the illusion was experienced even with delays of up to 270 ms. We argue that this relatively higher susceptibility to the illusion reflects inefficient audio–visual processing in the central nervous system and has important implications for the diagnosis and rehabilitation of falling in older persons.


Ageing Falls Older persons Cross-modal Perception Multisensory Integration Temporal window Balance 



This research was completed as part of a wider programme of research within the TRIL Centre, (Technology Research for Independent Living). The TRIL Centre is a multidisciplinary research centre, bringing together researchers from UCD, TCD, NUIG & Intel, funded by Intel, IDA Ireland and GE Healthcare. http://www.trilcentre.org

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest to report.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Annalisa Setti
    • 1
  • Kate E. Burke
    • 1
  • Rose Anne Kenny
    • 2
  • Fiona N. Newell
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Psychology, Institute of Neuroscience, Lloyd BuildingTrinity College DublinDublin 2Ireland
  2. 2.Department of Medical Gerontology, Institute of Neuroscience, Lloyd BuildingTrinity College DublinDublin 2Ireland

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