New research out of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and reported by CNN, points to falls as being more common among individuals with the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s. Researchers found that 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.
“Alzheimer’s not only impacts the lives of those with the disease, but adds great stress to caretaker families. Monitoring seniors at home susceptible to falling, especially those with Alzheimer’s, requires treatment and even home aides that are trained in both fall prevention and Alzheimer’s care,” said Ueberfluss, a Naperville physical therapist.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2000, the total direct cost of all fall injuries for people 65 and older exceeded $19 billion. The financial toll for older adult falls is expected to increase as the population ages, and may reach $54.9 billion by 2020 (adjusted to 2007 dollars).
The lead researcher pointed 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, whether or not it signals the onset of Alzheimer’s. Other conditions that lead to falls include blood pressure, medicines, general weakness and a recent hospital stay.