Dr. Ann-Maree Vallence

by Ann-Maree Vallence, 10 Apr 2019

We rarely think about the movements that allow us to go about our busy lives. But as we age, control over these movements declines to the extent that the daily tasks of living become too difficult, and many older adults require help or lose their independence completely. Both movement control and brain structure degrade across the lifespan, but there is a mismatch: the age-related decline in movement control manifests much later than the age-related decline in brain structure. This mismatch is problematic because it increases the likelihood of irreversible changes in brain structure before the decline in function is recognised.

This year, I was was one of only a handful of brain scientists to receive a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award to investigate connectivity in the ageing brain, and how this relates to the control of movement. The project will address the critical need to understand the causal role of age-related changes in brain network connectivity in the age-related decline in voluntary movement control using novel neurophysiological approaches.

Brain regions interact through complex and dynamic neural networks to control voluntary movement, but we don’t know whether age-related changes in network connectivity drive age-related decline in movement control. Expected outcomes include a critical understanding of the causal role functional connectivity in movement control. This will provide significant benefits such as the neurophysiological knowledge required to develop targeted interventions to reliably improve movement control in the ageing population.

I co-lead the Action and Cognition Research Group at Murdoch University, which I established in 2015 after being awarded an NHMRC Early Career Fellowship. My research team uses neurophysiological and applied behavioural measures to investigate sensorimotor control, learning, and cognitive function in healthy and clinical populations. The overarching aim is increasing older adults’ ability to perform tasks of daily living and decreasing the risk of falls, injury, and loss of independence.

I was also recently named as one of WA’s 2018 Tall Poppies by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) for my research achievements and commitment to communicating science and its significance to the broader community. As part of the Tall Poppy initiative, I will be involved in promoting interest and engagement in science in the education and community sectors.