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June 23rd, 2010
05:56 PM ET

Tests can screen for Parkinson's fall risk

By Georgiann Caruso
CNN Medical Associate Producer

New tests can help determine which Parkinson's disease patients are most at risk of falling, researchers report in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Fear of a fall can be overwhelming for people suffering from any neurological illness and the people who care for them. "'What we found is that people, even with early stage Parkinson's, have problems in postural stability and balance and that they do fall a lot," said study author Graham Kerr, Ph.D., of Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. "We are actually finding much earlier signs of falling than has been recognized before. People in the later-stage of the disease are going to be at even greater risk."

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that affects at least half a million Americans. The disease costs the United States alone over $6 billion each year. Parkinson's is characterized by several primary symptoms: tremors in the hands, legs or head, stiffness in trunk and limbs, slow movements and problems with balance/postural instability.

In the study, researchers followed 101 people, mostly with early stage disease (average six years), whom were all given baseline clinical and functional tests while they were in their best medicated state. They lived independently and walked without aid. The researchers then had the subjects record their falls for six months. 48 percent fell once, and 24 percent fell more than once. Several similarities existed among those who fell: less leg strength, poor sensation in their feet, dizziness upon standing, imbalance during standing up- a lot more sway of their body- and problems with controlling the order of their movements.

“The predictions were fairly accurate. "We correctly identified 78 percent at risk for falling, and of those who were and of those we predicted are at risk, we can be certain 84 percent of them really will go on to fall," Kerr said. "We need to be able to predict those at risk, because as soon as you fall & you injure yourself, then there are other increased costs that go with it like fractures."

Kerr said a standard neurological exam, along with movement and balance assessments and a questionnaire about patients' walking ability, could easily be given to provide a sufficient prediction of falls.

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soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. jerry wild

    I have Parkinson;s and understand this is helpful in identifing patients who are at risk, The next step of research is to pick the best exersise to build upon the weak points of the patient, I taught a Clinical Trail directed by Dr, Gammon Earhart of Washigton University in St . Louis Missouri in 2007, which was published in "Gait and Postue 2008 "-Tai Chi Improves balance and mobility in people with pakinsons". Tai chi is one exercice which is helpful. I have been practicing Tai Chi over 30 years and seen positive results. I have a web site I created in 2007 to help promote balance with Tai Chi for people with Parkinson's http://www.angelsflyforacure.com

    June 24, 2010 at 07:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. jerry wild

    I have Parkinson's and understand this is helpful in identifing patients who are at risk, The next step of research is to pick the best exersise to build upon the weak points of the patient, I taught a Clinical Trail directed by Dr, Gammon Earhart of Washigton University School of Medicine in St . Louis Missouri in 2007, which was published in "Gait and Posture 2008 "-"Tai Chi Improves balance and mobility in people with parkinsons". Tai Chi is one exercice which is helpful. I have been practicing Tai Chi over 30 years and seen positive results. I have a web site I created in 2007 to help promote balance with Tai Chi for people with Parkinson's http://www.angelsflyforacure.com

    June 24, 2010 at 10:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Silver Lake daughter

    My dad developed Parkinson's after a lifetime of healthy physical and athletic activity. He was a scratch golfer. It was sad to see this take over his life. He had a great attitude, however. As his disease progressed, he would sometimes fall in almost a slow-motion manner... not a crash. Then he would pride himself on getting back up and on being unhurt. My stepmother would worry and try to hold his arm, but if he fell, he'd just pull her over, too, so that didn't work. His scooter helped as he became more fall-prone. He never did break anything after numerous falls. It was a long, slow decline. Parkinson's is a cruel disease.

    June 24, 2010 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.