Cerebral blood flow in normal aging adults: cardiovascular determinants, clinical implications, and aerobic fitness

J Neurochem. 2018 Mar;144(5):595-608. doi: 10.1111/jnc.14234. Epub 2017 Nov 7.


Senescence is a leading cause of mortality, disability, and non-communicable chronic diseases in older adults. Mounting evidence indicates that the presence of cardiovascular disease and risk factors elevates the incidence of both vascular cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease (AD). Age-related declines in cardiovascular function may impair cerebral blood flow (CBF) regulation, leading to the disruption of neuronal micro-environmental homeostasis. The brain is the most metabolically active organ with limited intracellular energy storage and critically depends on CBF to sustain neuronal metabolism. In patients with AD, cerebral hypoperfusion, increased CBF pulsatility, and impaired blood pressure control during orthostatic stress have been reported, indicating exaggerated, age-related decline in both cerebro- and cardiovascular function. Currently, AD lacks effective treatments; therefore, the development of preventive strategy is urgently needed. Regular aerobic exercise improves cardiovascular function, which in turn may lead to a better CBF regulation, thus reducing the dementia risk. In this review, we discuss the effects of aging on cardiovascular regulation of CBF and provide new insights into the vascular mechanisms of cognitive impairment and potential effects of aerobic exercise training on CBF regulation. This article is part of the Special Issue "Vascular Dementia".

Keywords: cardiovascular function; cerebral autoregulation; cerebral blood flow; cerebral vasomotor reactivity; pulsatility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Animals
  • Arterial Pressure
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation*
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Neurovascular Coupling