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Title: Physical and mental coordination in the elderly : a causal role for the cerebellum?
Author: Gallant, Zoe
ISNI:       0000 0004 9356 5026
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2020
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The mechanisms underlying the progressive changes in tissues and organs that characterise normal ageing remain unclear. The cerebellum is known to play a major role in motor function, but recent research suggests it plays an equivalent role in cognition. Working with the hypothesis that cortico-cerebellar loops ensure smooth and coordinated activity in both domains, this thesis investigates the possible role of the cerebellum in normal ageing and in interventions to improve function, seeking to contribute to both theoretical and applied approaches to ageing. Study one investigated relationships between motor and cognitive function using raw data from a national normative sample of adults aged 16 to 75, employing a test battery assessing motor and cognitive skills. Differences between age groups were demonstrated in some tests of complex processing speed, working memory and executive function, with suggestive evidence that senescence in tests is reflected in tests sensitive to cerebellar function. Study two refined the battery, while including further measures of motor and memory performance to investigate linkages between cognitive and cerebellar function. Using a sample of 256 older adults, results were variable but provided evidence that pegboard performance could act as a predictor of some cognitive functions. Study three investigated a proactive intervention for healthy older adults designed to improve cerebellar function, and therefore balance and executive function. This involved an 8-10 week self-administered, internet-based coordinative exercise intervention using a ‘cerebellar challenge’ suite of graded activities. Performance on a basket of tests was assessed before and after, and also compared with performance changes in a no-intervention control group. Significantly greater benefits for the intervention group than the controls were found for balance physical coordination and controlled information processing. Overall, these studies support current research indicating cerebellar contribution to both cognitive and motor problems arising in old age, and present evidence that non-verbal memory and controlled speeded information problems may be alleviated through targeted activities affecting cerebellar function improving postural stability and physical coordination.
Supervisor: Nicolson, Rod ; Wilkinson, Iain ; Martin, Chris Sponsor: University of Sheffield ; Funds for Women Graduates
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available