Brain activity may predict risk of falls in elderly

New York: Measuring the level of brain activity in healthy older adults while they are walking can predict their risk of falling, suggests a study led by an Indian-origin scientist.

Falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among older adults and all too often lead to physical decline and loss of independence.

“Previous studies have shown that when older people perform cognitively demanding tasks, their brains are required to become more active to handle the challenge,” said lead author Joe Verghese, Director at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, US.

The new study found that people whose brain activity level increases when carrying out any other task while walking were more likely than others to fall, Verghese added.

In addition, changes in brain activity that influence walking may be present long before people exhibit any sign of walking difficulty, he added.

For the study, the team involved 166 older adults with an average age of 75. All participants were healthy, with no signs of dementia, disability, or problems with walking.

The researchers measured their brain activity, as they performed three different tasks: walking at a normal pace, reciting alternate letters of the alphabet while standing and walking at a normal pace while simultaneously reciting alternate letters of the alphabet.

When the participants’ were walking while reciting alternate letters of the alphabet, they showed elevated levels of brain activity, which signalled an increased risk of falling in the future.

Each incremental increase in brain activity was associated with a 32 per cent increased risk of falls, the researchers explained, in the paper published in the journal Neurology.