Problems getting around in old age? Blame your brain

Mar 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: Molecule enhances copper's lethal punch against microbes

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Body by smartphone

Jul 30, 2014

We love our smartphones. Since they marched out of the corporate world and into the hands of consumers about 10 years ago, we've relied more and more on our iPhone and Android devices to organize our schedules, ...

Device eliminates 93 percent of lawnmower pollutant

Jul 07, 2014

A team of University of California, Riverside Bourns College of Engineering students have won an EPA student design contest for a device they created that curbs harmful pollutant emitted from lawnmowers by ...

Organic conundrum in Large Magellanic Cloud

Jun 23, 2014

(Phys.org) —A group of organic chemicals that are considered carcinogens and pollutants today on Earth, but are also thought to be the building blocks for the origins of life, may hold clues to how carbon-rich ...

Trapping the light fantastic

Jun 16, 2014

(Phys.org) —The development of a 'nanobarrel' that traps and concentrates light onto single molecules could be used as a low-cost and reliable diagnostic test.

Recommended for you

Breakthrough in understanding of important blood protein

10 hours ago

The human body contains a unique protein that has the unusual property of destroying itself after a few hours of existence - it must therefore be continually recreated and is no stable protein. The protein, ...

User comments : 0