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Ability to balance 'could be a sign of brain health'

Ability to balance 'could be a sign of brain health'
19th December 2014

Balancing on one leg could be a way of determining whether a person is at risk of a stroke or dementia, according to new research.

The American Heart Association has published a study showing that struggling to balance on one leg for 20 seconds or longer was linked to a higher risk of small blood vessel damage in the brain and reduced cognitive function in otherwise healthy people with no clinical symptoms.

Some 841 women and 546 men with an average age of 67 were asked to keep their eyes open and raise one leg for a maximum time of 60 seconds. 

They performed this task twice and their best result was used by the researchers. Brain magnetic resonance imaging was used to assess cerebral small vessel disease - small infarctions without symptoms such as lacunar infarction and microbleeds.

The researchers found that 34.5 per cent of those with more than two lacunar infarction lesions and 16 per cent of those with one had trouble balancing.

In addition, 30 per cent of those with more than two microbleed lesions and 15.3 per cent of those with one had trouble balancing.

Those with cerebral diseases were older, had high blood pressure and had thicker carotid arteries than those who did not have cerebral small vessel disease.

However, after the team adjusted for these covariates, people with more microbleeds and lacunar infarctions in the brain were found to have shorter one-legged standing times. Short standing times were also independently linked with lower cognitive scores.

"Individuals showing poor balance on one leg should receive increased attention, as this may indicate an increased risk for brain disease and cognitive decline," said Yasuharu Tabara, lead study author and associate professor at the Center for Genomic Medicine at Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Kyoto, Japan. 

"One-leg standing time is a simple measure of postural instability and might be a consequence of the presence of brain abnormalities."

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