Investigating the link

Between visual impairment, cerebral oxygenation and propensity to falling in the elderly

Project reference number: HLSLTC007


Falls in older people are common and associated with considerable morbidity and mortality. In 2015, falls in people aged 65 plus were estimated to cost £4.6 million a day in the UK. Older people with visual impairment have more hospital admissions, report more contact with their general practitioner (GP) and have a 1.7 times higher risk of falling than their sighted counterparts. Visual impairment caused by glaucoma is an independent risk factor for falls worldwide. Left untreated, glaucoma results in the eventual death of the optic nerve, normally associated with increased intraocular pressure (IOP). IOP is related to inadequate blood perfusion that causes damage to and loss of neurons in the eye, which in its turn results in reduced neural signal reaching the brain. Thus, vital visual information is curtailed. Poor vascular perfusion in the eye may, therefore, be a risk factor for falls.


The aim of the project is to explore links between falls, blood flow and glaucoma in older people. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) will be used to measure cerebral oxygenation and haemodynamic responses (HDRs) in the activated brain. Ocular Coherence Tomography angiography will be used to measure vascular perfusion in the eye. Cross-correlation of the physiological parameters collected, alongside falls history and visual fields, will be used to explore whether HDRs can be an efficient screening mechanism to determine falls risk. This may allow early falls prevention intervention and reduce health care costs and reductions in quality of life of older people with glaucoma.

Application deadline

The application deadline for October intake is 1st of July.

Research supervisors

Candidates are encouraged to contact the following researchers for further details:

Modes of study

This project is available as a:

  • PhD: 3 years full-time or 4.5 years part-time.
  • 1 + 3 route to PhD: Undertaking MRes [1 year full-time or 2 years part-time] + PhD as above


Applicants will normally hold a UK honours degree 2:1 (or equivalent); or a Masters degree in a subject relevant to the research project. Equivalent professional qualifications and any appropriate research experience may be considered. A minimum English language level of IELTS score of 6.5 (or equivalent) with no element below 6.0 is required. Some research disciplines may require higher levels.

Specific requirements of the project

The successful applicant may be a UK honours degree 2:1 (or equivalent); or a Masters degree in a subject relevant to the research project. Relevant subjects: optometry, electronic or biomedical engineering, physiotherapy.