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Dementia drug shows promise for preventing Parkinson’s falls

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A commonly prescribed dementia drug could hold the key to helping prevent debilitating falls for people with Parkinson’s disease, suggests UK research.

A study, published in the journal The Lancet Neurology, shows patients with Parkinson’s given the oral drug rivastigmine were 45% less likely to fall and were considerably steadier when walking, compared to those on a placebo.

“This takes us a step closer to improving the quality of life and finding better treatments for people with Parkinson’s”

Arthur Roach

Previous research suggests around 70% of people with Parkinson’s will fall at least once a year, with over a third experiencing falls repeatedly, resulting in fractures, broken bones and hospital admissions.

Dr Emily Henderson, from the University of Bristol and principal researcher on the new study, 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,” she said.

She added: “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.”

The Bristol researchers studied 130 people with Parkinson’s who had fallen in the past year. Half were given rivastigmine capsules and the other half a placebo over an eight month period.

Dr Arthur Roach, director of research at Parkinson’s UK, which funded the study, said preventing falls and improving balance was the “biggest unmet” need for patients with the condition, other than finding a cure.

“This trial shows that there may be drugs already available, being used for other purposes, that can be tested to help treat Parkinson’s,” he said.

“This takes us a step closer to improving the quality of life and finding better treatments for people with Parkinson’s,” he added.


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