Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center

Falls may be sign of future Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline

June 28, 2013


Cognitively normal older adults with evidence of early brain changes typical of Alzheimer’s disease fell more often than did their peers without these brain changes, a new study reported online in Neurology. The results suggest that declines in mobility may precede the symptoms of cognitive decline found in Alzheimer’s disease.

Investigators studied 125 volunteers age 65 and older at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis, to determine how often they fell over the course of 1 year. The participants, mostly white women, recorded their falls in a calendar-journal they mailed monthly to the researchers. Participants reported a total of 154 falls, most of which occurred while walking; the number of falls per person ranged from 0 to 12.

Participants also underwent brain imaging to detect the protein amyloid in the brain and a lumbar puncture to look for certain proteins in cerebrospinal fluid—biomarkers associated with preclinical Alzheimer’s disease. After adjusting for differences in the ability to perform everyday activities, the researchers found that participants with biomarkers indicating greater risk for Alzheimer’s were more likely to fall and to fall sooner, compared with those with less biomarker evidence.

The results of the study, led by Dr. Susan L. Stark, extend earlier research findings that movement changes precede cognitive changes in people with very early signs of Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment. More research is needed to better understand how falls may help predict risk for and signal onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Reference: Stark SL, et al. Preclinical Alzheimer’s disease and risk for falls. Neurology, Published online June 26, 2013. doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e31829d87aa

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