Background: Healthy ageing has several effects on the autonomic control of the circulation. Several studies have shown that baroreflex-mediated vagal control of the heart deteriorates with age, but so far there is little information regarding the effect of ageing on sympathetically mediated baroreflex responses. The aim of this study was to assess the effects of ageing on baroreflex control of the heart and blood vessels.
Materials and methods: In 40 healthy volunteers, aged 20-87 years, we applied oscillatory neck suction at 0.1 Hz to assess the sympathetic modulation of the heart and blood vessels and at 0.2 Hz to assess the effect of parasympathetic stimulation on the heart. Breathing was maintained at 0.25 Hz. Blood pressure, electrocardiographic RR intervals and respiration were recorded continuously. Spectral analysis was used to evaluate the magnitude of the low-frequency (0.03-0.14 Hz) and high-frequency (0.15-0.50 Hz) oscillations in the RR interval and blood pressure. Responses to neck suction were assessed as the change in power of the RR interval and blood pressure fluctuations at the stimulation frequency from baseline values.
Results: Resting low- and high-frequency powers of the RR interval decreased significantly with age (P < 0.01). However, the low-frequency power of systolic blood pressure did not correlate with age. Spontaneous baroreflex sensitivity (alpha-index) showed a significant inverse correlation with age (r = -0.46, P < 0.05). Responses of the RR interval and systolic blood pressure to 0.1 Hz neck suction stimulation were not related to age, however, the RR interval response to 0.2 Hz neck suction declined significantly with age (r = -0.61, P < 0.01).
Conclusions: These results confirm an age-related decrease in cardiovagal baroreflex responses. However, sympathetically mediated baroreflex control of the blood vessels is preserved with age.