Problems getting around in old age? Blame your brain

March 17, 2008

New research shows how well people get around and keep their balance in old age is linked to the severity of changes happening in their brains. The study is published in the March 18, 2008, issue of Neurology. White matter changes, also called leukoaraiosis, are frequently seen in older people and differ in severity.

The three-year study called LADIS (Leukoaraiosis and Disability), coordinated by the Department of Neurological and Psychiatric Sciences of the University of Florence, involved 639 men and women between the ages of 65 and 84 who underwent brain scans and walking and balance tests. Of the group, 284 had mild age-related white matter changes, 197 moderate changes, and 158 severe changes.

The study found people with severe white matter changes were twice as likely to score poorly on the walking and balance tests as those people with mild white matter changes. The study also found people with severe changes were twice as likely as the mild group to have a history of falls. The moderate group was one-and-a-half times as likely as the mild group to have a history of falls.

“Walking difficulties and falls are major symptoms of people with white matter changes and a significant cause of illness and death in the elderly,” said study author Hansjoerg Baezner, MD, PhD, with the University of Heidelberg in Mannheim, Germany. “Exercise may have the potential to reduce the risk of these problems since exercise is associated with improved walking and balance. We’ll be testing whether exercise has such a protective effect in our long-term study of this group.”

“Mobility is one of the key determinants of independent aging,” said Baezner. “Limitations in mobility often lead to hospitalization and nursing home placement. This will become a major problem for our social and economic systems in the upcoming decades.”

In addition, Baezner says monitoring white matter changes may be useful in the early detection of walking problems, which have been linked to other health problems. “Recently, gait abnormalities have been shown to predict non-Alzheimer’s disease dementia, so recognition, early diagnosis and treatment of this disabling condition may be possible through early detection of walking and balance problems.”

Baezner says researchers do not fully understand why some people’s white matter changes are worse than others or what causes the changes, however, a clear link to insufficiently treated high blood pressure has been shown.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Explore further: Soft matter exhibiting angle-independent structural colors

Related Stories

Soft matter exhibiting angle-independent structural colors

November 3, 2015

Chameleon skin and some type of fish skin are regarded as the prototype of structurally colored materials that change their color appearance upon external stimuli, which can be light and dark transitions or other environmental ...

Tribes want protections to remain for sacred grizzly bears

November 13, 2015

American Indians across the Western U.S. are challenging moves by federal wildlife officials to lift protections for grizzly bears that roam a vast wilderness centered on Yellowstone National Park, citing worries over potential ...

The sun

September 28, 2015

The sun is the center of the Solar System and the source of all life and energy here on Earth. It accounts for more than 99.86% of the mass of the Solar System and it's gravity dominates all the planets and objects that orbit ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.