Falls in elderly linked to high blood pressure and blood flow in brain

24 May 2010

Falls in elderly people are higher in those with high blood pressure and an inability of the brain blood supply to respond adequately to changing conditions, according to a study published in the journal Neurology.

It shows that treatment for high blood pressure and adequate exercise for the elderly could be important factors in preventing falls among the elderly and reducing the admissions to emergency departments and hospital wards.

Each year in the US alone, unintentional falls account for more than 16,000 deaths and 1.8 million emergency room visits. A situation repeated in other developed countries where the high cost of care for the elderly is becoming an increasing burden on the health and social services.

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% of people who had the smallest blood flow changes in the brain were at a 70% higher risk of falling compared to the 20% 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.

“At age 60, 85% of people have a normal walking ability. However, by age 85, only 18% 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.

“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.

Further information

The American Academy of Neurology has a guideline on how to identify people most at risk for falling. For more information on the guideline, visit www.aan.com


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