Background: Falling is a major cause of disability and morbidity among older adults. Because poor balance is a major reason for frequent falls, assessment of balance and its risk factors are important. In this study, we postulated that cerebral changes identified on magnetic resonance (MR) imaging are related to balance, and that older adults with balance problems would have significantly greater prevalence of such brain abnormalities than older adults without balance problems.
Design and measurements: Several measures of balance were examined in more than 700 community-dwelling older men and women, blacks and whites. Balance measures included dynamic posturography, functional reach, Romberg and 1-foot stand tests, tandem stand, and 1-foot stand. Cerebral MR imaging assessments included ventricular size, sulcal widening, white matter disease, and ischemic infarctions. Cardiovascular disease and hypertension were determined and controlled for in the analyses.
Results: A summary of the balance measures was significantly related to each of the 4 MR imaging measures, with those with poorer balance having more disease. The strongest associations with balance were seen for white matter disease and ventricular size. All but the ischemic infarction variable remained significantly associated with balance after adjustments for sex, race, age, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.
Conclusion: Cerebral changes identified by MR imaging are associated with poorer balance among older adults.