Aging and Geriatric

Motor Learning and Brain Activity in Older Adults

Faculty Mentor’s Name: Dr. David Clark
Email: davidclark@ufl.edu
Phone Number: (352) 376-1611
Project Category: Clinical
International Component or Travel: No

Research Project Description:
Aging often leads to substantial declines in walking function, especially for walking tasks that are more complex such as obstacle crossing. Neurorehabilitation can contribute to recovery of lost walking function in older adults, but major and persistent improvements are elusive. A cornerstone of neurorehabilitation is motor learning, defined as an enduring change in the ability to perform a motor task due to practice or experience. Unfortunately, in most clinical settings, the time and cost demands of delivering a sufficiently intensive motor learning intervention is not feasible. There is a need for research to develop strategies for enhancing motor learning of walking (“locomotor learning”) in order to improve the effectiveness of neurorehabilitation.

The objective of this study is to use non-invasive brain stimulation to augment locomotor learning and to investigate brain networks that are responsible for locomotor learning in mobility-compromised older adults. We have shown that frontal brain regions, particularly prefrontal cortex, are crucial to control of complex walking tasks. Our neuroimaging and neuromodulation studies also show that prefrontal cortex structure and network connectivity are important for acquisition and consolidation of new motor skills. However, a major gap exists regarding learning of walking tasks. The proposed study is designed to address this gap. Our pilot data from older adults shows that prefrontal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) administered during learning of a complex obstacle walking task contributes to multi-day retention of task performance. In the proposed study we will build upon this pilot work by conducting a full scale trial that also investigates mechanisms related to brain structure, functional activity, and network connectivity. We will address the following specific aims:

Specific Aim 1: Determine the extent to which prefrontal tDCS augments the effect of task practice for retention of performance on a complex obstacle walking task.

Specific Aim 2: Determine the extent to which retention of performance is associated with individual differences in baseline and practice-induced changes in brain measures (working memory, gray matter volume, task-based prefrontal activity, and brain network segregation).

Specific Aim 3: Investigate the extent to which tDCS modifies resting state network segregation.

We anticipate that prefrontal tDCS will augment retention of locomotor learning, and that our data will provide the first evidence of specific brain mechanisms responsible for locomotor learning/retention in older adults with mobility deficits. This new knowledge will provide a clinically feasible intervention approach as well as reveal mechanistic targets for future interventions to enhance locomotor learning and rehabilitation

Technology and Translational Research on Aging

Faculty Mentor’s Name: Dr. Todd Manini
Email: tmanini@ufl.edu
Phone Number: (352) 273-5914
Project Category: Clinical
International Component or Travel: No

Research Project Description:
There are several projects being undertaken by Dr. Manini and his coworkers.

Project 1: Smart mobile health technology for older adults. Our team has built the Real-time Online Assessment and Mobility Monitor smart watch app (ROAMM) to understanding health in the free-living world. The project aims to develop and validate the ROAMM smart watch app in older adults with comorbidities. We will use continuous and remote health monitoring from wearable technology to understand risk factors and impact of falls and hospitalizations.

Project 2: Coping with COVID-19: Impact on technology use, mobility, food security, depression and social isolation. We developed an anonymous online survey to understand how COVID-19 is impacting people’s lives— particularly older adults. The survey consists of questions about medical health, activity levels, mood, use of technology and food availability before and during the COVID-19 outbreak. Survey data is available to conduct analyses and address questions related to healthcare of older adults during the pandemic.

Disclaimer: The images on this page were taken prior to the national guidelines of face coverings and social distancing.