Vascular Aging and Brain Health

This program area investigates the role of cardiovascular health in modifying brain blood flow, and how age-related changes might affect motor and cognitive function. The importance of this work stems from the fact that many aspects of cardiovascular aging can be slowed or prevented by lifestyle changes related to exercise and diet, and when necessary by appropriate medication. Specific prevention and treatment strategies based on this research will maximize the chances of maintaining high quality of life as we age.

Vascular-AgingPractical Applications

  • Discovering how changes in cardiovascular health might affect brain blood flow and cause dizziness, possibly contributing to falls, on standing up.
  • Identifying prevention and treatment strategies to maintain or improve vascular health, brain blood flow and cognitive functioning.
  • Linking research about astronaut space travel to the aging process here on earth.

Project Highlights

  • Understanding the relationship between cardiovascular health and cognitive and motor function with age.
  • Investigating whether exercise can affect blood flow in the brain of healthy older adults and older adults with mild cognitive impairment.
  • Exploring the links between cardiovascular health, brain blood flow and the risk for dizziness or falls, especially just after rising from bed or a chair.
  • Get Fit for Space initiative: Connecting research with astronauts in micro-gravity to aging research and using the astronaut experience to help inspire seniors to exercise.


Theme Leader/Chair
Dr. Richard Hughson, PhD (Schlegel Research Chair in Vascular Aging & Brain Health,
Professor, University of Waterloo)

Research Scientists
Bill McIlroy, PhD (University of Waterloo)
Myra Fernandez, PhD (University of Waterloo)
Laura Middleton, PhD (University of Waterloo)

Research Associates
Andrew Robertson, PhD Candidate (University of Waterloo)

Additional Information

To date, this program of research has shown a link between stiffer arteries throughout the body and lower blood flow in the brain. Additional preliminary research suggests that people with low brain blood flow do not perform as well on tests that require quick decision making. Funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Heart and Stroke Foundation have enabled the research team to identify how these changes happen: Using noninvasive tools (e.g. ultrasound imaging) to investigate the properties of blood vessels and to measure blood flow into the different regions of the brain; Taking small blood samples to measure markers of accelerated aging to try to understand the mechanisms.