Irish study improves understanding of falls risk in older people

Reduction in brain tissue oxygenation increases risk

Deborah Condon

August 18, 2022

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  • New Irish research has revealed that brain tissue oxygenation is lower in older adults who are frail and have multiple health conditions, putting them at an increased risk of fainting and falls.

    Brain oxygenation - the measure of oxygen in brain tissue - reflects the balance between oxygen delivery and consumption. It is vital for the maintenance of normal brain function and tissue integrity.

    Researchers from Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing (MISA) and the Department of Medical Physics at St James’s Hospital and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) studied 350 older adults as part of a wider programme of research examining new ways of detecting those at risk of fainting using novel brain sensors and artificial intelligence tools.

    The study found that those with multiple chronic health conditions, especially women, are more prone to having both large blood pressure drops and lower brain oxygenation after standing up, increasing their risk of dizziness, fainting and falls. 

    When it comes to lower blood pressure after standing up, the researchers said that monitors that measure blood pressure during every heartbeat can play a key role in clinically assessing falls and fainting.

    When it comes to large drops in brain oxygenation following standing up, simple sensors that measure brain oxygenation could improve how dizziness, falls and fainting are diagnosed and managed in the future, especially among those who have multiple health conditions.

    The research was undertaken by PhD researcher, Laura Perez-Denia, of the Department of Medical Gerontology in TCD, MISA and the Department of Medical Physics at St James’s Hospital. She noted that falls and fainting affect one-third of older adults and can have a major impact on quality of life.

    “Our work has discovered that new signs of accelerated brain ageing can occur in those with common chronic health conditions placing these individuals at a higher risk of falling and consequently ill health. We have shown that these signs can be detected using novel brain sensor technologies which are both inexpensive and practical for clinical use, opening up potential new avenues for clinical management,” she noted.

    Meanwhile, according to the study’s co-principal investigator and director of the Falls and Syncope Unit at MISA, Prof Rose Anne Kenny, these findings “shed new light on some of the most common and potentially devastating conditions in older patients”.

    “The findings have critical implications for diagnosing and managing falls and faints, both of which are the commonest causes of hip fractures and head injuries. Detection of intermittent low blood pressure and low brain oxygenation provide a novel approach to prevent serious disabilities and thereby maintain wellbeing and good health for longer,” she added.

    This study is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society and can be viewed here.

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