A new study shows that altered blood flow in the brain due to high blood pressure and other conditions may lead to falls in elderly people. The research will be published in the May 18, 2010, issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Each year, unintentional falls in the United States account for more than 16,000 deaths and 1.8 million emergency room visits.
"At age 60, 85 percent of people have a normal walking ability. However, by age 85, only 18 percent of seniors can walk normally," said study author Farzaneh A. Sorond, MD, PhD, with Brigham and Women's Hospital, Hebrew SeniorLife's Institute for Aging Research and Harvard Medical School in Boston and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.
For the study, researchers followed 419 people age 65 or older. Ultrasound tests were used to measure brain blood flow response to carbon dioxide levels, a standard test of blood vessel function in the brain. Walking speed was measured by a four-meter walking test. The seniors and their caregivers reported any falls that occurred over two years.
The study found that the 20 percent of people who had the smallest blood flow changes in the brain were at a 70 percent higher risk of falling compared to the 20 percent of people who had the largest blood flow changes in the brain. Those with the slowest rate had an average of nearly 1.5 falls per year, compared to less than one fall per year for those with the highest rate.
"Our findings suggest there could be a new strategy for preventing falls, such as daily exercise and treatments for high blood pressure, since blood pressure affects blood flow in the brain and may cause falls," said Sorond.
The study was supported by a donation from Dr. Fatemeh Khosroshahi to the Brigham Women's Hospital and by grants to Dr. Farzaneh Sorond and Dr. Lewis A. Lipsitz from the National Institute on Aging. The study is part of MOBILIZE Boston (Maintenance of Balance, Independent Living, Intellect and Zest in the Elderly).
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