Study Links Hardened Arteries to Falls in the Aged

According to a recent study, stiffening of the aging brain's blood vessels reduces their ability to respond to changes in blood pressure, increasing the risk of falls by as much as 70%. This change in the arteries is only one of many factors that lead to falls among the elderly, yet the findings provide a potential target for intervention, said a neurologist at Albert Einstein University College of Medicine. Treating high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, among other factors, can reduce the stiffening of arteries.

He also said that even if stiffened arteries only accounts for 10-15% of falls it would still be worth treating and eliminating these falls.  A variety of factors have been linked to falls, including diseases, foot problems, overmedication, environmental hazards — and abnormalities in the signaling potential of the brain's white matter, which controls both cognitive and motor functions, have also been linked. This study was designed to demonstrate at least one cause by which these latter abnormalities could occur.

A group of Harvard neurologists studied 420 people over the age of 65. The team measured the flow of blood in the patients' brains. Heavy breathing increases carbon dioxide levels and normally produces a dilation of the blood vessels, a phenomenon known as vasoreactivity. If blood vessels don't properly dilate under stress, the brain does not get enough oxygen and glucose. The team reported in the journal, Neurology, that patients with decreased vasoreactivity had a slower, worse gait than those in the top fifth and were 70% more likely to have suffered a fall during the study period.

The researchers hope to continue to study whether the lowering of cholesterol can increase vasoreactivity and lower the occurrence of falls. The team also plans to do imaging studies to further determine if low vasoreactivity is linked to problems with white matter. The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging and a private donor. For more, read the story


Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.

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