NeuRA Magazine #22

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UNDERSTANDING THE RISK OF FALLS IN PEOPLE WITH PARKINSON’S DISEASE

Balance and walking impairments are disabling symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that adversely affect performance of daily activities, reduce independence and increase the risk of falls. Around 60% of people with Parkinson’s disease fall at least once a year, with a large proportion (50-86%) falling multiple times in this period. Decline in the ability to adapt stepping and walking behaviour, particularly under challenging conditions, may contribute to trips and slips; which are a frequently reported cause of falls in people with Parkinson’s disease.

To further our understanding of fall risk in people living with Parkinson’s disease, we conducted a study on the role of attention in stepping and the ability to adjust steps while walking in response to unexpected hazards. This involved a step mat test of reaction time and an obstacle course designed by PhD student Joana Caetano. Dr Menant said that great care was made in designing a test that could mimic everyday walking challenges, for example walking along in a busy street and at the last second noticing the slippery banana peel or the broken tile, that required a short, long or wide step to successfully avoid it.

The team found that compared with their healthy peers, people with Parkinson’s disease had slower and more variable stepping reaction times in a situation involving a distracting task and were less able to adapt their stepping while walking. The participants were, therefore, more likely to miss step targets and strike the obstacle on the pathway. Professor Lord considers that such impaired stepping and gait adaptability places people with Parkinson’s disease at an increased risk of falling when negotiating unexpected hazards in everyday life.

Our future work will investigate whether rehabilitation interventions aimed at improving stepping and walking adaptability can reduce fall risk in people with Parkinson’s disease.

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FEEL THE BUZZ IN THE AIR? US TOO.

Ten siblings. One third live (or have passed away) with dementia.

The scourge of dementia runs deep in Lorna Clement's family. Of the eleven children her dear parents raised, four live (or have passed away) with complications of the disease. Her mother also died of Alzheimer's disease, bringing the family total to five. This is the mystery of dementia - One family, with two very different ageing outcomes. You will have read that lifestyle is an important factor in reducing the risk of dementia. We also know diet is a key factor, and an aspect that Dr Ruth Peter's is exploring at NeuRA. Along with leading teams delivering high profile evidence synthesis work in the area of dementia risk reduction, Dr Peters has a particular interest in hypertension (that is, high blood pressure) and in the treatment of hypertension in older adults. “We have known for a while that treating high blood pressure reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, but it is becoming clearer that controlling blood pressure may also help to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Now we need to know what the best blood pressure is to protect brain health.” You are invited to read more about Lorna's story and Dr Peter's work, by clicking 'Read the full story' below. Please support dementia research at NeuRA Will you consider a gift today to help Dr Peter's unlock the secrets of healthy ageing and reduce the risk of dementia? Research into ageing and dementia at NeuRA will arm doctors and other medical professionals with the tools they need to help prevent dementia in our communities. Thank you for your support.
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