Falls are more common among individuals with the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s, according to a study presented Sunday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2011 in Paris. The study measured the rate of falls among cognitively healthy older adults with and without preclinical Alzheimer’s—as measured by amyloid imaging using positron emission tomography (PET) with Pittsburgh compound B (PiB)—and found twice the risk of falls for people with higher levels of PiB on their scan.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, older adults with Alzheimer’s may be at higher risk for falls because of balance and gait disorders and problems with visual and spatial perception that are caused by the disease.
"Understanding the traditional hallmarks of Alzheimer's, including cognitive impairment and memory loss, are important; however, these study results also illustrate the significance of understanding that, in some people, changes in gait and balance may appear before cognitive impairment," said Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., Alzheimer's Association senior director of medical and scientific relations.
"Growing scientific evidence suggests that 'silent' biological changes may be occurring in the brain a decade or more before we can see the outward symptoms of Alzheimer's. According to this study, a fall by an older adult who otherwise has a low risk of falling may signal a need for diagnostic evaluation for Alzheimer's," said Carrillo.
Led by Susan Stark, Ph.D., assistant professor of occupational therapy and neurology at Washington University in St. Louis, the 8-month study followed 125 older adults currently enrolled in longitudinal studies of memory and aging at Washington University's Knight Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.