Brain Changes in Elderly Can Affect Mobility and Balance

Changes in the brain can affect old people’s mobility and balance, according to a recent study. Particularly affecting balance and walking are white matter changes called leukoaraiosis.

The 639 men and women between the ages of 65 and 84 in the study underwent brain scans and walking and balance tests. 284 people in the group had mild age-related white matter changes, 197 moderate changes, and 158 severe changes.

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

Published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology,the 3-year study was coordinated by the Department of Neurological and Psychiatric Sciences of the University of Florence.

Source: Neurology, March 18, 2008

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