Loss of balance and increased fall risk is a common problem associated with aging. Changes in vestibular function occur with aging but the contribution of reduced vestibular otolith function to fall risk remains unknown. We examined a population of 151 healthy individuals (aged 21-93) for both balance (sway measures) and ocular counter-rolling (OCR) function. We assessed balance function with eyes open and closed on a firm surface, eyes open and closed on a foam surface and OCR during ±20 degree roll tilt at 0.005 Hz. Subjects demonstrated a significant age-related reduction in OCR and increase in postural sway. The effect of age on OCR was greater in females than males. The reduction in OCR was strongly correlated with the mediolateral measures of sway with eyes closed. This correlation was also present in the elderly group alone, suggesting that aging alone does not account for this effect. OCR decreased linearly with age and at a greater rate in females than males. This loss of vestibular otolith-ocular function is associated with increased mediolateral measures of sway which have been shown to be related to increased risk of falls. These data suggest a role for loss of otolith function in contributing to fall risk in the elderly. Further prospective, longitudinal studies are necessary to confirm these findings.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Sex differences