Mobility deficits such as balance and gait impairments are cardinal features of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Balance is reliant on cortical control particularly in older adults and PD, where there is increased dependence on cortical control for balance due to underlying motor deficits. To date, little is known about cortical control of balance, but evidence suggests attention and visuo-spatial function are important.
As neural control of balance and gait are distinct, further understanding around the underlying cortical control of balance will inform future rehabilitation programmes. Advances in technology, such as fNIRS, now allows for non-invasive measurement of cortical activity via measurement of oxygenated haemoglobin (HbO2: a proxy for cortical activation) in different regions of the cortex. However, previously fNIRS has been limited to only recording the prefrontal cortex during balance and mobility tasks (i.e., only small fNIRS headbands available), with other cortical areas rarely assessed. Due to the reliance on visual and proprioceptive systems in balance, it is critical that we measure activity across the entire cortex.
This observational study will involve assessment of comprehensive cortical control of balance over the entire cortex in healthy older adults and people with PD. The primary outcome measures will be 1) HbO2 across cortical regions (frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital) and 2) comprehensive measures of balance during several tasks to challenge cognitive (dual task), visual (eyes open, eyes closed) and proprioceptive (challenging surfaces) systems. This will be measured using a portable fNIRS device where cortical activity will be assessed during balance challenges. It is hypothesised that HbO2 levels will selectively increase in regions of interest dependent on the task and to a greater extent in people with PD. Understanding the cortical control of balance across the cortex will allow for the development of future clinical interventions that target specific brain regions or activation, which will ultimately help to prevent falls and mortality and improve quality of life.
The supervisors, Dr Rosie Morris (Physiotherapist), Dr Samuel Stuart (Physiotherapist), Dr Tamlyn Watermeyer (Psychology) and Professor Ioannis Vogiatzis (Professor Rehabilitation Sciences) are experienced researchers in both ageing and clinical populations and provide a team with expertise in neuroscience, neuropsychology, postural control and fNIRS.
We are looking for a highly motivated and organised team player to join the Physiotherapy Innovation Lab (www.pi-lab.co.uk, @Physio_In_Lab). The candidate should ideally have an interest in clinical populations and be eager to learn new skills. Candidates will be provided with the opportunity for hands-on training and attendance at regular lab meetings alongside mentors, post-doctoral fellows, and PhD students. Applicants interested in this project would ideally have a background in Physiotherapy, Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience, Human Movement Science, Clinical Exercise Physiology or similar. Experience with previous participant recruitment and data management would be beneficial.
Eligibility and How to Apply:
Please note eligibility requirement:
- Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
- Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
- Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.
For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see
Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.
Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022
Start Date: 1 October 2022
Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.
Informal enquiries to Dr Rosie Morris ([Email Address Removed]).