Nav: Home

Vestibular function declines starting at age 40

November 28, 2016

Boston, Mass. -- A new study led by researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear found that vestibular thresholds begin to double every 10 years above the age of 40, representing a decline in our ability to receive sensory information about motion, balance and spatial orientation. The report was published online ahead of print in Frontiers in Neurology.

"In our study, vestibular decline was clearly evident above the age of 40," said senior author Daniel M. Merfeld, Ph.D., Director of the Jenks Vestibular Physiology at Mass. Eye and Ear and a Professor of Otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School. "Increased thresholds correlate strongly with poorer balance test results, and we know from previous studies that those who have poorer balance have much higher odds of falling."

More than half of the population will see a doctor at some point in their lives with symptoms related to the vestibular system (e.g., dizziness, vertigo, imbalance and blurred vision). The vestibular system, made up of tiny canals in the inner ear, is responsible for receiving information about motion, balance and spatial orientation.

With the goal of determining whether sex or age affected the function of the vestibular system, the researchers administered balance and motion tests to 105 healthy people ranging from 18 to 80 years old and measured their vestibular thresholds ("threshold" refers to the smallest possible motion administered that the subject is able to perceive correctly). While they found no difference between the thresholds of male and female subjects, they found that the thresholds increased above the age of 40 for all motions studied.

The researchers also found that these increasing thresholds strongly correlated with failure to complete a standardized test for balance. This correlation shows that fall risk is substantially impacted by vestibular function. Using data from previous studies, the researchers suggest that vestibular dysfunction could be responsible for as many as 152,000 American deaths each year. This estimate would place vestibular dysfunction third in the United States behind heart disease and cancer as a leading cause of death among Americans.

The correlation between vestibular thresholds and balance also suggests that there may be better ways to screen vestibular function and ways to develop therapies that may improve their thresholds.

"We've known for a long while that patients with vestibular disorders have disturbed balance," said Dr. Merfeld. "If worse vestibular function leads to falls, perhaps we can develop balance aids or physical therapy exercises to improve balance or vestibular function and prevent those falls."
-end-
Authors on the Frontiers in Neurology report include Dr. Merfeld, Maria Carolina Bermudez Rey, Tania Leeder and Yong Bian of the Jenks Vestibular Physiology Laboratory at Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School; Torin K. Clark, of the Jenks Vestibular Physiology Laboratory at Mass. Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School and the University of Colorado at Boulder; Wei Wong, of Brigham and Women's Hospital/Harvard Medical School. Research supported by NIH/NIDCD R01-DC01458 and R01-DC014924.

Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary

Related Age Articles:

How we age
It is well understood that mortality rates increase with age.
When you're 84...What should life look like as we age?
What will your life look like when you're 84? When a health system leader put that question to Lewis A.
Age matters: Paternal age and the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children
It is no secret that genetic factors play a role in determining whether children have neurodevelopmental disorders.
'Frailty' from age 40 -- what to look out for
With all eyes on avoiding major illness this year, health researchers are urging people as young as 40 to build physical and mental health to reduce or even avoid 'frailty' and higher mortality risk.
Why life can get better as we age -- study
People say life gets better with age. Now research suggests this may be because older people have the wisdom and time to use mindfulness as a means to improve wellbeing.
What causes an ice age to end?
Research by an international team helps to resolve some of the mystery of why ice ages end by establishing when they end.
New evidence of the Sahara's age
The Sahara Desert is vast, generously dusty, and surprisingly shy about its age.
When considering presidential candidates, age is just a number
A new white paper shows there is no such thing as being too old to be president.
Why sex becomes less satisfying with age
The number of women regularly having sex declines with age, and the number of women enjoying sex postmenopause is even lower.
A new 'golden' age for electronics?
Scientists at Nagoya University, Japan, have created materials that shrink uniformly in all directions when heated under normal everyday conditions, using a cheap and industrially scalable process.
More Age News and Age Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Warped Reality
False information on the internet makes it harder and harder to know what's true, and the consequences have been devastating. This hour, TED speakers explore ideas around technology and deception. Guests include law professor Danielle Citron, journalist Andrew Marantz, and computer scientist Joy Buolamwini.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.