Falls are experienced annually by approximately one third of community dwellers over the age of 65, and while neuro-cognitive deficits have been shown to increase falls risk, the specific nature of these deficits remain unspecified. Here we examined whether visual-spatial attention may be a core neuro-cognitive system showing abnormal function in fallers. Using a between-groups design, we recorded event-related potentials in a canonical spatial cuing task performed by two groups of senior (aged 65+ years old) participants: those with a recent history of falls and those with no such history. In terms of attentional control systems in cortex, we found no significant differences in function between groups. However, in terms of attentional facilitation of cortical processing, we found that fallers manifest specific abnormalities in the sensory/perceptual processing of targets in the left visual field. Our findings thus suggest that fallers have specific deficits in visuocortical systems associated with attentional enhancement of events on the left side of visual space.
Keywords: falls, cognitive impairment, visual-spatial attention, aging