Brain changes affect elderly balance, study finds

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Changes to the white matter in the brain caused by aging have been linked to balance and walking difficulties in the elderly, a new study says.

According to the three-year study, elderly people with "severe changes" to their white matter were twice as likely as those with "mild changes" to have a history of falls. They were also twice as likely to perform badly on walking and mobility tests. White matter is primarily responsible for relaying messages between different parts of the nervous system. Multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's are other diseases that can affect the white matter. The study was published in the March 18 issue of the journal Neurology.

The study, conducted in Germany, used brain scans and balance tests to determine the correlation between age-related white matter changes and mobility. Of the 639 men and women aged 65 to 84 who participated, 158 developed severe changes, 197 had moderate changes, and 284 had mild changes.