Higher blood pressure associated with decline in walking ability in older persons

Decline in lower limb function is common in older people, and worsening gait is associated with increased risk of dementia and death. However, factors contributing to gait difficulties in older persons are not well understood. A study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center suggests that higher blood pressure may be one factor associated with a decline in walking ability in later life. The research, by Dr. Raj Shah and colleagues at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, is published in the August 2006 issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, the scientific journal of The Gerontological Society of America.

Researchers recruited 888 older Catholic clergy without dementia or Parkinson's disease who are participating in the Religious Orders Study. At baseline, blood pressure was measured, the presence of vascular diseases and diabetes was recorded, cognitive function was assessed, and medications were inspected.

At baseline and subsequent annual visits, gait and balance were assessed using performance-based tasks, such as the time and number of steps taken to walk 8 feet, the time to sit up and down five times, the number of steps off the line during an 8-foot heel-to-toe walk, and a comparison of ability to stand with eyes open and eyes closed.

Participants completed a mean of nearly eight annual evaluations with a high rate of follow-up. Controlling for age, education, and gender, the study found a 10mmHg increment in systolic blood pressure was associated with greater decline in lower limb function. On average, lower limb function declined 28.7 percent faster in persons with a systolic blood pressure of 160 mmHg than in persons with a normal systolic blood pressure of 120 mmHg.

"After memory loss, the biggest concern of older individuals is loss of mobility," said Dr. Raj Shah, medical director of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center's Memory Clinic. "If high blood pressure is impacting gait, it is

Contact: Kim Waterman
Rush University Medical Center

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