Falls may indicate earliest stages of Alzheimer’s
July 17th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Falls may indicate earliest stages of Alzheimer’s

It’s no medical mystery that the most effective way to treat Alzheimer’s disease  is early and aggressively.  But promising new research out of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri,  is offering increased hope for earlier detection of the disease.

Falls, it turns out, are more common among individuals with the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s. Researchers at the Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center  presented their findings Sunday at the 2011 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Paris. In some instances – according to Maria Carrillo, senior director of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association, so-called silent biological changes in the brain may take place a decade or more before the outward symptoms begin to manifest.

An estimated 5.4 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, the only one of the top ten causes of death that can’t be prevented, cured, or slowed.

“We know that the medicine that we currently have works best if given very early,” says Dr. Sam Gandy, professor of psychology and neurology at Mount Sinai Medical Center. “All the trials we’re doing with new medications target very early stages of the disease. We want to stop the pathology.” Which is why it’s of the utmost importance that the disease be detected as early as possible.

The eight-month study followed 125 cognitively healthy older adults – with and without preclinical Alzheimer’s – who were already enrolled in other studies at ARDC. Each participant was asked to keep a journal of how many times he or she fell over the course of the study (a fall was constituted by “unintentional movement to the floor.”) Additionally, all participants had PET scans analyzed to determine their level of Pittsburgh compound B, or PiB, a substance used in PET scans that can indicate the presence of beta-amyloid plaques, a sign of Alzheimer’s development in the brain. Researchers found twice the risk of falls for people with higher levels of PiB on their scan.

“A fall is dramatic,” says Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. “[They’re] just one index of a risk state. We’re doing a study now at Mayo in Minnesota that’s… looking at a more sensitive measure of motor function than falls. Gait, ability to walk, speed, balance, etc.”

Petersen points out that Alzheimer’s is a multi-system disease. “People who do have instability in their gait probably have a predisposition to cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease in the future.”

The bottom line: A fall by an older adult who is usually steady on his feet may signal a need for diagnostic evaluation.

“I think it would be prudent to have a careful examination by someone who’s comfortable doing a complete psychological exam, either a neurologist, psychiatrist, physician, or internist,” says  Gandy, “just to see if you’ve got other cognitive problems.”

But Petersen warns against jumping to conclusions. “It certainly could be your medicines lowering your blood pressures, arthritis, other medical issues, some of which are treatable that may be causing you to fall.”

“At the end of the day,” says Petersen, “if you go through all these things and there’s nothing else going on, it could be a degenerative disease of the brain.” In which case, you’ll be glad you flagged the symptoms earlier rather than later.

soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Dawn Buck

    No.......... do some more research....

    July 17, 2011 at 16:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • razzi

      Research? We're to busy wasting money on war efforts...

      July 17, 2011 at 17:26 | Report abuse |
    • J DUB

      Razzi: Or we are too busy wasting money on a peice of unpatriotic trash like you

      July 17, 2011 at 23:18 | Report abuse |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why do you people bother to read about these studies and worse, to comment on them? Spare us all your attempts at "humor" and go blow. People like you pop up like toadstools after a shower, making disdainful comments about every research finding.

      Get a freakin' hobby.

      July 17, 2011 at 23:23 | Report abuse |
  2. Joe

    Falls, grey hair, liver spots, I'm sure they're all correlated with alzheimer's and any number of age-related diseases. I hope they hang the "genius at work" sign at the Research Center.

    July 17, 2011 at 17:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daisy

      People don't have to be old to get Alzheimer's, and old age doesn't mean someone will get Alzheimer's. People can get full-blown Alzheimer's in their 40s and 50s, and others can live into their 90s and 100s without ever getting it.

      July 17, 2011 at 19:06 | Report abuse |
    • Heliocracy

      Daisy missed the point of your post. She probably has alzheimer's.

      July 17, 2011 at 21:11 | Report abuse |
    • Angela Birch

      actuallyDaisyhas i right. . Joe on the other hand is making leaps of logic that defy description.

      July 17, 2011 at 23:41 | Report abuse |
    • Epidi

      My husband is in his mid 50's and being tested for this awful disease. I've seen this man go from a vibrant, healthy, active man to someone who can't recall the conversation we had together 20 minutes before. It's devastating to the family to watch their loved one fade away slowly every single day. His father has had Alzheimer’s for years and hardly recoginzes any of us. I'm terrified of this happening to my husband. He is too. No laughing matter – at least not for our family.

      July 18, 2011 at 00:13 | Report abuse |
    • 66Biker

      I have a terrible memory and asked my Neurologist to test me for Alzheimer’s disease and he said that while there are some tests that can suggest the possibility of a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, nothing is 100% certain and there are no specific tests that confirm with any level of certainty whether you have Alzheimer's disease or not. The best that Doctors can do is say whether Alzheimer's may be the cause of your symptoms based on the symptoms you have.

      July 18, 2011 at 01:06 | Report abuse |
    • NoNewInformation

      I agree. The key word here, folks, is "may." What have they established???

      July 18, 2011 at 07:43 | Report abuse |
    • caryn

      Why comment if you truly do not understand?

      July 18, 2011 at 17:24 | Report abuse |
  3. bedi

    i'm a 'faller' and have been since i was 30. i'm clumsy. stopped taking diltiazem which was causing my ankles to swell and my feet to hurt. still might be pre-disposed to this dreaded disease even though it doesn't run in my family but i'm hoping i'm not.

    July 17, 2011 at 18:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. monkeyspunk

    Falling down might also be from drunkeness, just saying....my Granpa used to belt down a fifth a day

    July 17, 2011 at 18:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. gene

    Not much science behind this story. Bottom line is that if you fall down, go and have a few thousand dollars worth of tests run. There might be a chance they find something where you can spend a few thousand more dollars to find out later they were wrong.

    July 17, 2011 at 19:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Alexander

    Alzheimer's Disease is "the only one of the top ten causes of death that can’t be prevented, cured, or slowed." If it cannot be prevented, cured, or slowed, then why does the article say that "early and aggressive treatment" is the "most effective" way to deal with it? It sounds like someone is trying to make a buck selling snake oil again.

    July 17, 2011 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michael Dowling

      Yes,my thoughts exactly. I think it CAN be slowed in its progression to full blown Altzheimers by the use of drugs such as Aricept. My elderly neighbour told me that he was diagnosed with Altzheimers,and they were giving him Aricept.He died a few years ago,and I'm not sure how much the drug slowed the disease down.I always remember him as being bright,and a very friendly chap.

      July 17, 2011 at 19:53 | Report abuse |
    • bucks12965

      Well said.

      July 17, 2011 at 20:53 | Report abuse |
    • dtuttle2000

      Aricpet doesn't cure, prevent or slow alzheimer's. I have something similar called frontal lobe dementia and I'm on Aricept. It's not slowing anything down, but it does help me with my memory. But the disease is still chugging away as fast as ever.

      July 17, 2011 at 22:04 | Report abuse |
    • elle

      The only benefit to knowing is the ablity to get one's affairs in order and if one desires, find a way to end the misery befoire nautre takes its cruel and costly course. My friend's husband had his life extended by getting an implanted pacemaker; so whereas ne might have passed before the dementia manifested severely, this brilliant engineer is now bognizant of virtually nothing, but his heart beats on. And his doctors sleep well at night for this, well-compensated too, since his insurance is superb. How kind it would be for a senior with Alzheimer's to be able to end this by choicebefore the dementia took absolutely everything.

      July 17, 2011 at 23:11 | Report abuse |
  7. Elizabeth

    Alexander is right. Please revise the lede of this posting, which falsely indicates that there is an effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease. This is a significant error that needs to be corrected. The third paragraph has it right. Thanks.

    July 17, 2011 at 19:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Poodles

      Learn to use reply. Your post had no reason to be its own thread.

      July 17, 2011 at 21:12 | Report abuse |
  8. bonbon

    They used to call it "hardening of the arteries" back in the day before they actually came up with a name. many deceases had other names or descriptions! like "the vapors" fainting or hot flashes. "sugar" or now diabetes. Alzheimers isn't new at all just has a medical name. i hope they find a cure for it. It is hard to watch a loved one slowly disappear. you look into their eyes and they aren't there any more, they look at you but you can't see the love as before. It is harder than a sudden death.

    July 17, 2011 at 19:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michael Dowling

      They were right about it being "hardening of the arteries" with some people.They suffer from what's called transient ischemic attacks,or small strokes that gradually injure the brain.There are many causes of dementia,and Altzheimers is probably the deadliest.

      July 17, 2011 at 19:59 | Report abuse |
    • brad

      I think you are thinking of atherosclerosis...that would me hardening of the arteries.

      July 17, 2011 at 20:26 | Report abuse |
  9. Ann

    Obviously, none of you live with the constant threat of a loved one falling.Not just tripping over the carpet,but losing conciousness and going completely out for a matter of seconds to a matter of minutes, dealing with the consequences of these falls, having your life turned upside down.Living with a wheelchair,traveling with a chair and requiring someone to be always with the person to make sure if the fall is serious enough, to call 911. We would gladly spend thousands MORE if we could find anything that would help give us any more time as a normal family again. Live in someone else's shoes before you presume to condem the medical community for Research.

    July 17, 2011 at 20:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. There's Anotheranswer

    They're forgetting to add God into the equation here when they say there is no treatment for alzheimers or cure or prevention. When one prays, MIRACLES can truly happen! It is when a dis-ease is known to have no man-made cure that one should turn to God for the answer! He Created man and He can heal man! When the sky looks the bleakest and the darkest, look to the light of Jesus. He can perform the miracles than man cannot! Look to him rather than accept a man-made forecast of gloom and doom when it can turn out much better through prayer to God.

    July 17, 2011 at 20:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Poodles

      I hope you're joking or trolling, because otherwise you've got some mental disorders yourself. Believing in non-existent things beyond childhood is not a safe thing.

      July 17, 2011 at 21:14 | Report abuse |
    • reg

      Not believing in the Guy In The Sky, POODLES, could lead to complications in your life later on.
      Try some Lecithin x2 daily...Wal-mart pharmacy MAY be lowest price. Take with Multi, extra C 1k, E 200 or better.
      Just like the Guy In The Sky, it won't hurt to try. unless you are allergic or hyper-sensitive to any of the vitamins named. I'm no doctor, nor do I espouse any religion over another, I just care enough to wish all who read this post: Good Health.

      July 17, 2011 at 21:40 | Report abuse |
    • Jo Carr

      Hogwash. If there's a God, then why does he or she burden us with such terrible diseases?

      July 17, 2011 at 22:47 | Report abuse |
    • Angela Birch

      Jo, probebly because he/she is not a very nice God. The history of manking is littered with terrible disases, accidents, Acts of God To believe in a bieing that would allow innocent infants to be roasted alinve or who whould wipe out en entire town to get rid of a few Gay people or would cause volcanos/earthquakes/floods is to be pretty sure that if there is a God it is not friendly to mankind.

      July 17, 2011 at 23:52 | Report abuse |
  11. easyrestin

    I fell last week off a short ladder and broke my arm above the elbow. I am also suffering with extreme tightness in the neck and shoulder areas and am pretty sore all over. I know why I was on the ladder but I don't remember falling. I'm 72 years old. I am a candidate for the researchers.

    July 17, 2011 at 20:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Maybe

      Try googling clinicaltrials.gov and type in the search terms you want – alzheimers, locations you can get to, etc., and it will show you studies for which you might be eligible.

      July 17, 2011 at 22:56 | Report abuse |
  12. John

    I wonder though. If someone with Alz falls in the forest where noone can hear him...will he remember it?

    July 17, 2011 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • deb

      wow, that was cruel

      July 17, 2011 at 21:17 | Report abuse |
  13. deb

    sorry naysayers, but my dad was diagnosed at 63 and placed on aricept immediately, he is now almost 85 and still recognizes us, tools around in a wheelchair w/ his feet, and smiles and laughs at appropriate times. he lives in a special care unit of a nursing home, but he still has quality of life. the aricept has significantly slowed the progression of the disease in him , unlike his other three siblings who also had it ~ that are not with us anymore. yes, four of eight siblings in one family! so, if falling is an early sign, i urge all of you to pay attention to it! I know all of us cousins are making ourselves very aware.

    July 17, 2011 at 21:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jo Ann

      We had a similar experience with my father, who was diagnosed early and placed on Aricept. With the early diagnosis, he was able to help plan for the future and to reassure us that eventual placement in a special care unit would be OK. He eventually did need placement, but he really did have many good years (10+) after the diagnosis, spending time with his grandchildren, gardening and following his favorite sports teams. My father's sister, who did not have the same early treatment, had a much faster progression of the disease. Was the difference in disease progression just a random event? We'll never know, but I am on the bandwagon for early diagnosis and treatment!

      July 17, 2011 at 22:59 | Report abuse |
  14. Olivia

    So I'm 72, still tavel the world teaching; just made my first film that will be shown in several up-coming film festivals; working on the second. My third book in six years comes out next spring. This winter I slipped and caught myself going up a cement staircase during a rainsrorm when my shoe hit a patch of slimey leaves. I'll make an appointment with my local neurologist tomorow for a battery of tests to see if in ten years I'll begin to develop signs of Alzheimers. Thank god for the internet.

    July 17, 2011 at 22:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Joe

    If the disease can't be cured or even slowed, then why is it important to diagnose it early and treat it aggressively? That makes no sense.

    July 17, 2011 at 23:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Scott

      To ease the burden on caretakers, and to give the patient the best quality of life for as long as possible before they lose their minds and start rubbing their nose on the kitchen table like my grandpa does. I'm assuming you don't have anyone in your life who's had this, so of course you wouldn't understand.

      July 17, 2011 at 23:13 | Report abuse |
  16. D

    Oh no!!!! I tripped and fell on the sidewalk yesterday...SAY IT ISN'T SO, I"M ONLY 23 YEARS OLD DAMNIT! ohhh man

    July 17, 2011 at 23:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Why does some moron always feel the need to make some asinine comment on every article about a research study? If all you are going to do is get on here and "yawn" or complain that the research is a waste of money or that it's a "duh" moment for medical research, just shut up already and go elsewhere.

    July 17, 2011 at 23:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. jdoe

    Falls may be an indicator. So are getting lost, forgetting things, losing stuff, and a myriad of other things. Focusing on falls in particular seems rather limiting.

    July 18, 2011 at 02:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Anne

    As suggested in this article falls may not always be a sign of Alzheimer's. In my case I would fall and pass out, which happened a few times. In testing it was found it was my carotid artery that was blocked. I was operated on and that was the problem. But to add further my sister-in-law was falling and they couldn't give her any diagnosis. She ended up with dementia and passed away last month.

    July 18, 2011 at 05:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. robertwkenney@yahoo.com

    I'm doing that now

    July 18, 2011 at 07:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. rossita

    My mother died from Alzheimer's three months ago. I gave her all the possible medications and took good care of her trying to stop the inevitable. In the end, she had 11 agonizing years of a terrible disease. Today, I kind of feel guilty and wonder what would have happend if she would not have taken all those things. Probably, she would have died sooner and suffer less. I am sorry but after seeing what she went through I don't want to go through that myself. Unless we find a cure, we should not extend a disease full of complications like neumonia, colds, urinary infections, contractures, vomit, diarreah, blod clots, skin infections... do you want more? And what is worse: NOT BEING YOURSELF ANYMORE!!!!!

    July 18, 2011 at 09:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. ccaze

    in my case falls indicate late stage alcoholism.

    July 18, 2011 at 11:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Betty

    I actually found this article to be very important and interesting. Alzheimers runs in my family and i think falling would trigger an evaluation which may be able to detect the alzheimers disease in an early stage. Since this runs in my family i have been researching about the disease and ways to deal with it and prevent it and i have found quite a few articles that might help other people as much as it helped me. I have even found a new book on treating and preventing alzheimers by dr isaacson that you must have seen on the today show a few weeks ago. I highly reccomend checking it out since it is also very helpful

    July 27, 2011 at 20:15 | Report abuse | Reply
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