June 23, 2010 -- Basic, simple tests can help predict which Parkinson’s disease patients are most likely to fall, leading to injury, reduced mobility, and a higher probability of nursing home care, a new study finds.
Australian researchers say people with Parkinson’s disease who have balance problems and who tend to freeze while walking are more likely to fall, compared to Parkinson’s patients who aren’t exhibiting such symptoms.
The study, published in the June 23 issue of the journal Neurology, looked at 101 Parkinson’s patients who were able to walk without aids. Patients were tested to evaluate their balance and mobility, and they reported any falls that occurred over a six-month period.
Tests looked for symptoms such as visual function, balance and gait, strength, reaction time, the degree patients sway while walking, and proprioception, or awareness of the orientation of one’s limbs in space. Fallers, the authors say, reported more problems with gait and balance than other patients in the study.
The authors concluded that patients who had problems in coordinating multi-joint movements were more prone to falls.
The study found that 48% of the patients suffered a fall, and 24% fell more than once. In addition, 42% of the patients said they had fallen in the year before the study began.
The tests were able to accurately predict a fall in 78% of the patients, the researchers say.
“These tests are easy to implement and take only a short time to complete,” study author Graham K. Kerr, PhD, of Queensland University of Technology, says in a news release. “Once we can identify those at risk of falling, we can take steps to try to prevent these falls.”
Wesley Thevathasan, MD, of the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre in Oxford, England, and Tipu Aziz, PhD, of John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, write in an accompanying editorial that deep brain stimulation may also reduce falls in Parkinson’s patients.