Visual-vestibular integration is preserved with healthy aging in a simple acceleration detection task
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Aging is associated with a gradual decline in the sensory systems and noisier sensory information. Some research has found that older adults compensate for this with enhanced multisensory integration. However, less is known about how aging influences visual-vestibular integration, an ability that underlies self-motion perception. We examined how visual-vestibular integration changes in participants from across the lifespan (18-79 years old) with a simple reaction time task. Participants were instructed to respond to visual (optic flow) and vestibular (inertial motion) acceleration cues, presented either alone or at a stimulus onset asynchrony. We measured reaction times and computed the violation area relative to the race model inequality as a measure of visual-vestibular integration. Across all ages, the greatest visual-vestibular integration occurred when the vestibular cue was presented first. Age was associated with longer reaction times and a significantly lower detection rate in the vestibular-only condition, a finding that is consistent with an age-related increase in vestibular noise. Although the relationship between age and visual-vestibular integration was positive, the effect size was very small and did not reach statistical significance. Our results suggest that although age is associated with a significant increase in vestibular perceptual threshold, the relative amount of visual-vestibular integration remains largely intact.
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