Website Edition: April/May 2012

Aging, the Central Nervous System, and Mobility in Older Adults

Related Articles: Understanding Gait in Aging: Finding the way Forward


Authors: Caterina Rosano and H.J. Aizenstein, N.B. Alexander, D.A.Bennett, S. Black, R. Camicioli, M.C. Carlson, W.G.Chen, L.Ferrucci, J.M. Guralnik, L.Harootyan, J.M.Hausdorff, J.Kaye, L.J. Launer, L. Lipsitz, A.B.Newman, S.A.Studenski, J. Verghese

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) are sponsoring a cooperative conference to highlight the emerging field that focuses on the interplay between the central nervous system (CNS) and mobility impairment in community-dwelling older adults.

The number of older adults at risk for physical disability is rapidly increasing, and mobility impairment is associated with loss of independence, substantially reduced quality of life, hospitalization, and premature death. Thus, understanding the mechanisms of mobility impairment in this population has the potential to greatly improve clinical and preventive care for older adults.

The need for this initiative stems from the observation that mobility impairments in older adults living in general community settings are largely understudied, they lack a clearly defined pathophysiology, accurate clinical terminology, and effective treatment strategy. To date, most geriatric research studies of mobility impairment have either focused on musculoskeletal problems in the periphery while overlooking CNS measures or have solely focused on disease-related changes in CNS anatomical integrity and function. Many of the motor function studies retain a segregated view of the brain, with motor and cognitive areas separate from each other or have applied disease-oriented models of inquiry. Investigations that apply disease-specific and discipline-based approaches can explain neither the variance nor the variability of mobility impairment in older adults.  Recently, emerging evidence has begun to support the importance of CNS and brain plasticity in regulating mobility in older adults and may provide new insights and strategies for managing and treating mobility problems.

Three yearly workshops are planned, with the first one scheduled for November 12-14, 2012 in San Diego, CA, The three workshops complement each other within a specific conceptual framework (See Figure 1). The first workshop will establish the best evidence to date for a relationship between the CNS and mobility and will identify state-of-the-art technology to quantify CNS and mobility measures. The second workshop will build on the first and ascertain the mechanisms and causes by which age-related CNS impairment may cause mobility impairment. The third workshop will identify the most promising prevention and intervention strategies that are currently being studied and/or should be addressed in future studies.

This conference series is expected to promote collaborations among experts in complementary fields of aging, cognitive neuroscience, neurology, neuroimaging, biomedical engineering, neuropsychology, and epidemiology who might not otherwise have an opportunity to work together.       

Figure 1. Model for the conference series “Aging, the Central Nervous System, and Mobility in Older Adults”.