Study Finds Frequent Falls May Be Early Indicator of Alzheimer's
My father has had a series of falls recently. Combing that information with a recent assessment by a health care provider that his short term memory is rocky, I’ve started wondering if Alzheimer’s might be in the future.
And I may have a good basis for my concern. A new study out of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis has found that cognitively normal adults who showed evidence of early brain changes that are common with Alzheimer’s disease fell more often than older adults who didn’t have these brain changes.
This study involved 125 participants who were 65 years and older. The participants were primarily white women. They were asked to keep a calendar journal of how often they fell. The journal was then mailed monthly to researchers. A total of 154 falls were reported, most of which happened while participants were walking. The number of falls ranged from 12 per person to zero.
The researchers also asked participants to undergo an imaging scan of their brain in order to see if there was any amyloid protein in the brain. Participants also were asked to have a lumbar puncture to determine if there were certain proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid. Both of these tests were designed to identify these biomarkers, which have been found in preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers’ analysis found that study participants who had biomarkers that suggest they have a greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease were more likely to fall. Additionally, they were more likely to fall sooner as compared to participants who did not have as much biomarker evidence.
The National Institute on Aging pointed out that this study extends earlier research that found that movement changes are seen before a person displays cognitive changes in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The NIA encourages researchers to do additional studies to better understand how falls may predict the risk for Alzheimer’s and signal the onset of this brain disease.
Taking Steps to Keep Your Balance
What the study doesn't say is whether Alzheimer's disease is attacking the part of the brain responsible for coordination and balance, I'd suggest it is important to really focus on fall prevention if you or a loved one is falling.
“Concerns about falling can enter your life slowly and gradually – they can start creeping into your thoughts and get stronger as time goes on – or they can come on suddenly,” states “A Matter of Balance Volunteer Lay Leader Model, Maine’s Health Partnership for Healthy Aging.” The model recommends the following:
- Recognize your fears of falling and how these thoughts may affect your feelings and actions.
- Evaluate how realistic these fears are and determine whether they are stopping you from taking constructive action.
While these fears may emerge, it’s important to stay active. Doing so can help you keep and improve strength, have more energy, improve balance, prevent or delay some conditions, and improve your mood and reduce depression. The model recommends trying to incorporate four types of physical activity – endurance (30 minutes of activity that makes you breathe hard), strength, balance and flexibility. The model recommends:
- Be sure to talk to your doctor about an exercise program that is right for you. Slowly start your exercise program, especially if you haven’t been active in a while.
- Don’t hold your breath during strength exercise.
- Use appropriate safety equipment, such as a helmet for bike riding.
- Drink plenty of fluids, unless your doctor has asked you to limit your fluid consumption.
- Always bend forward from the hips instead of the waist.
- Warm up muscles before stretching.
- If you feel pain while exercising, something is wrong. Exercise shouldn’t hurt or cause excessive tiredness.
Additionally, the model recommends the following if you are having issues with falls:
- Take care of your overall health.
- Having your vision and hearing tested often since changes in these senses can make you less stable.
- Find out potential side effects of medications you’re taking. If one may affect your coordination or balance, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what you can do to lessen the chance that you will fall.
- Stand up slowly after eating, lying down or resting to keep your blood pressure on an even keel.
- Don’t let the home get too hot or cold, which can make you dizzy.
- Wear rubber-soled, low-heeled shoes that fully support your feet.
- Use the handrails when walking upstairs.
- Go through your home and eliminate things that can cause falls (such as clutter, area rugs, electric cords, etc.)
As for my dad, I’ll keep watching to see if he continues to have issues with memory. However, I think his main problem in relation to falls is due to chronic back pain which limits his flexibility.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
MaineHealth’s Partnership for Healthy Aging. (2006). A matter of balance: Managing concerns about falls.
National Institute on Aging. (2013). Falls may be sign of future Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline.