A new study by Massachusetts Eye and Ear researchers found that our ability to detect and perceive motion declines after 40 years of age, making it one of the leading cause of death.
Researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear found that vestibular dysfunction begin to double every 10 years above the age of 40, which results in a decline in our ability to receive sensory information about motion, balance and spatial orientation.
“In our study, vestibular decline was clearly evident above the age of 40,” said senior author Daniel M. Merfeld, Director of the Jenks Vestibular Physiology at Massachusetts, US 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.”
The vestibular system, made up of tiny canals in the inner ear, helps in receiving information about motion, balance and spatial orientation. More than half of the population above 40 years have reported some symptoms related to the vestibular system such as dizziness, vertigo, imbalance and blurred vision.
In their study, the researchers administered balance and motion tests to 105 healthy people aged 18 to 80 years to measure their vestibular thresholds. They found no difference between the thresholds of male and female subjects ruling out the gender base but they found that the thresholds increased above the age of 40 for all motions studied.
The subjects clearly failed the threshold correlated with failure to complete a standardized test for balance, reflecting increase in the fall risk clearly impacted by vestibular function. Correlating it with past data from previous studies, the researchers said that vestibular dysfunction could be responsible for as many as 152,000 American deaths each year.
It becomes third in the United States behind heart disease and cancer as a leading cause of death. It also suggests 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 lead researcher 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,” he added.
The report was published in “Frontiers in Neurology”.