Researchers at Washington University, in St Louis, studied 114 healthy older people over an eight-month period. Brain scans were used to measure the amount of a protein called amyloid in the participants’ brains, while levels of amyloid and a second protein, tau, were also measured in their spinal fluid. Amyloid and tau both build in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease and stop nerve cells from working properly.
Participants were asked to record each fall they experienced in a diary. The researchers found falls were more common in people with higher levels of amyloid in their brains, and more tau in their spinal fluid – described by the researchers as ‘preclinical’ Alzheimer’s. People with high levels of amyloid in their brain were five times more likely to fall than those with normal brain scans.
Their findings are to be reported at the American Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Paris today (17 July).
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“These findings give more weight to the suggestion that Alzheimer’s begins to develop long before cognitive symptoms show. The results could offer a new lead to help us detect the disease in the earliest stages. This study is also a useful reminder that memory loss is not the only symptom of Alzheimer’s.
“These are early results, and much more research will be needed to confirm whether balance and visual perception problems are an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. The earlier we can detect the disease, the better our chances of intervening with new treatments at a stage when they are most likely to be beneficial. Research is the only answer to dementia if we are to offer hope for the future.”
Alzheimer’s Research UK