Association Between Falls and Brain Subvolumes: Results from a Cross-Sectional Analysis in Healthy Older Adults

Brain Topogr. 2017 Mar;30(2):272-280. doi: 10.1007/s10548-016-0533-z. Epub 2016 Oct 26.


Falls are a consequence of gait instability. Cortical and subcortical abnormalities have been associated with gait instability but not yet with falls. This study aims to compare the global and regional brain subvolumes between healthy older fallers and non-fallers. A total of 77 healthy older individuals (23 fallers and 54 non-fallers, 69.8 ± 3.5 years; 45.5 % female) were included in this study using a cross-sectional design. Based on an a priori hypothesis, the following brain subvolumes were quantified from three-dimensional T1-weighted MRI using FreeSurfer software: total white matter abnormalities, total white matter, total cortical and subcortical gray matter, hippocampus, motor cortex, somatosensory cortex, premotor cortex, prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex volumes. Gait performances were also recorded. Age, sex, body mass index, comorbidities, use of psychoactive drugs, far-distance visual acuity, lower-limb proprioception, depressive symptoms and cognitive scores (Mini-Mental State Examination, Frontal Assessment Battery) were used as covariates. Fallers have more frequently depressive symptoms (P = 0.048), a lower far distance visual acuity (P = 0.026) and a higher coefficient of variation of stride time (P = 0.008) compared to non-fallers. There was a trend to greater subvolumes for the somatosensory cortex (P = 0.093) and the hippocampus (P = 0.060) in the falls group. Multiple logistic regressions showed that subvolumes of the somatosensory cortex and the hippocampus (P < 0.042) were increased in fallers compared to non-fallers, even after adjustment for clinical and brain characteristics. The greater subvolumes of the somatosensory cortex and hippocampus reported in fallers compared to non-fallers suggests a possible brain compensatory mechanism involving spatial navigation and integration of sensory information.

Keywords: Brain volume; Fall; Magnetic resonance imaging; Motor control; Older adults.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Gait
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / diagnostic imaging*
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Organ Size / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging