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Dementia drug found to prevent falls in people with Parkinson's

Article By: Ellie Spanswick, News Editor

A commonly prescribed dementia drug could help prevent falls in people living with Parkinson’s.

Published in journal, The Lancet Neurology, the study found that people with Parkinson’s who received the oral drug Rivastigmine were 45 per cent less likely to experience falls and were considerably steadier when walking compared to those who took a placebo.

Parkinson’s affects seven million people worldwide and 127,000 people in the UK with one person diagnosed every hour in the UK alone.

Of those living with Parkinson’s, 70 percent will experience a fall at least once a year, while more than 30 per cent experience regular falls that often result in broken bones, fractures and hospital admissions.

Principal researcher on the study and research fellow Dr Emily Henderson for Parkinson’s UK is based at the University of Bristol. She said: “With the degeneration of dopamine producing nerve cells, people with Parkinson’s often have issues with unsteadiness when walking. As part of the condition, they also have lower levels of acetylcholine, a chemical which helps us to concentrate – making it extremely difficult to pay attention to walking.

“We already know that Rivastigmine works to treat dementia by preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine, however our study shows for the first time that it can also improve regularity of walking, speed, and balance. This is a real breakthrough in reducing the risk of falls for people with Parkinson’s.”

Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurologic condition with no cure. The main symptoms experienced are tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity.

Research at the University of Bristol studied 130 people with Parkinson’s who had experience a fall in the last year. Half the group were given Rivastigmine, while the other half were given a placebo for an eight month period.

Caroline Maxwell from Northamptonshire, participated in the study after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s 13 years ago. She commented: “A few years ago, I had a bad fall while carrying my sewing machine across the room, leaving me in hospital for a week and really denting my confidence.

“I’m at the stage where I would walk much better with a replacement joint, but because I fall so frequently my surgeon is reluctant to operate. Falling on my replacement hip would put in an even worse situation than what I’m in now.

“By potentially finding a treatment that helps to prevent falls, I’d be able to get a replacement hip and have the confidence to go shopping on my own, without having to constantly rely on the goodness of strangers to pick me up when I fell.”

The study was funded by Parkinson’s UK director of research, Dr Arthur Roach, who said: “People affected by Parkinson’s, their carers, and health and social care professionals have said that preventing falls and improving balance is the biggest unmet need for people living with the condition, other than finding a cure.

“Things that may be simple to us, such as walking upstairs or getting up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water, or go to the toilet, are much harder and more dangerous when you could easily fall. You risk breaking bones and then needing an emergency hospital admission.

“This trial shows that there may be drugs already available, being used for other purposes, that can be tested to help treat Parkinson’s. This takes us a step closer to improving the quality of life and finding better treatments for people with Parkinson’s.”

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