Alleviating the fear of falling

Jul 28, 2008

Getting old isn't just about body aches and pains. As we get older, our risk of falling greatly increases. Old bones don't heal like young ones, and for senior citizens, falls are a leading cause of death.

But researchers at Tel Aviv University provide hopeful news from an unexpected source. Ritalin, used for managing Attention Deficit Disorder in hyperactive children, may have therapeutic benefits for seniors too. Older people who take methylphenidate (the generic name for Ritalin) may improve their cognitive abilities and their gait, cutting the risk for serious falls. This surprising finding was made by Prof. Jeffrey M. Hausdorff, a lecturer at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, and his colleagues, and reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

TAU's researchers are the first to investigate the power of Ritalin to prevent falling in the elderly. After only one dose of Ritalin, seniors walked with a steadier gait and performed better on a standard screening test for fall risk, Prof. Hausdorff found.

"Our study suggests that it may be possible to reduce the risk of falls in older adults by treating cognitive deficits associated with aging and disease," Prof. Hausdorff said. "This is consistent with a growing body of literature which has demonstrated that walking is not a simple, automated task, as it was once believed," he explains. "We've taken this idea a step further and shown that you can capitalize on this dependence on cognitive function and use it to reduce the risk of falls."

Knowing how to improve cognitive functioning could lead to fewer falls ― and fewer related deaths ― among America's senior population. "Some have estimated that more than 50 percent of seniors who break a hip from a fall will die within the year," says Prof. Hausdorff. This is partly due to a vicious cycle fueled by a fear of falling and subsequent inactivity, causing elderly patients to spiral into further decline.

In the recent study, Prof. Hausdorff gave Ritalin to 26 healthy seniors who resided in independent living arrangements. They were assessed for fall risk before taking a single dose of Ritalin or placebo administered in a double blind fashion. The subjects were then asked to perform the "Timed Up and Go" test, during which they were asked to stand up from a chair, walk at a normal pace for about ten feet and then turn around, walk back and sit down. The longer it takes to accomplish the task, the greater the fall risk.

Those who took Ritalin performed the test quicker and had less variability in their "stride time," a common sign of instability, researchers found. Preliminary research on patients with Parkinson's disease also shows that Ritalin may help decrease the risk of falling even in the face of this common neurodegenerative disease.

While the notion of treating fall risk with a pill is "an intriguing concept," says Prof. Hausdorff, it is not likely to be a silver bullet solution, and it is still too early to recommend Ritalin on a wide scale basis. Additional studies are planned to more fully assess clinical utility, but it's likely that, for example, the drug would not be suitable for people who have certain types of heart disease.

What can seniors do to prevent a potentially catastrophic fall now? "Remain active, that's been well-established," says Prof. Hausdorff. "Our findings indicate that it's also important to look at falls and relate them to one's cognitive functioning. It's important to strengthen your muscles, but seniors need to strengthen their minds as well."

Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Explore further: Were clinical trial practices in East Germany questionable?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

US official: Auto safety agency under review

4 hours ago

Transportation officials are reviewing the "safety culture" of the U.S. agency that oversees auto recalls, a senior Obama administration official said Friday. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been criticized ...

Out-of-patience investors sell off Amazon

5 hours ago

Amazon has long acted like an ideal customer on its own website: a freewheeling big spender with no worries about balancing a checkbook. Investors confident in founder and CEO Jeff Bezos' invest-and-expand ...

Ebola.com domain sold for big payout

5 hours ago

The owners of the website Ebola.com have scored a big payday with the outbreak of the epidemic, selling the domain for more than $200,000 in cash and stock.

Recommended for you

Were clinical trial practices in East Germany questionable?

Oct 23, 2014

Clinical trials carried out in the former East Germany in the second half of the 20th century were not always with the full knowledge or understanding of participants with some questionable practices taking place, according ...

Schumacher's doctor sees progress after injury

Oct 23, 2014

A French physician who treated Michael Schumacher for nearly six months after the Formula One champion struck his head in a ski accident says he is no longer in a coma and predicted a possible recovery within three years.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

THEY
not rated yet Jul 28, 2008
Oh good! Now we have an excuse to make the older generations have swiss cheese holes in their brains too!