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Alzheimer's link to balance

24th May 2006

24052006_nursinghome1.jpgIn a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine US researchers say that problems with walking and balance may be the first sign of Alzheimer's disease. A study of 2,288 elderly people found that such physical symptoms were associated with an increased risk of developing dementia.

At the start of the study, none of the participants had any sign of dementia but after six years 319 individuals had developed dementia - 221 of them had Alzheimer's disease.

Those with good physical performance scores at the start of the investigation were three times less likely to develop dementia than those with poor scores. The first indicators of future dementia appeared to be problems with walking and balance. A weak hand grip was a later sign.

Study leader Dr Eric Larson said that if confirmed, the study might also help explain the association of physical exercise with a reduced risk of dementia, suggesting that exercise, by improving and maintaining physical function, might benefit cognitive function through a connection between the two. A previous study by Dr Larson had shown that regular exercise reduced the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease by up to 40%.

Deputy chief executive of Alzheimer's Research Trust, Harriet Millward, said anything that helped to diagnose Alzheimer's at an early age would be useful. She added that this is the first study relating dementia to physical function rather than intensity or regularity of exercise.

Head of research at the Alzheimer's Society Dr Susanne Sorensen, said: "The studies findings are constant with the Alzheimer's Society's message that leading a healthy life may reduce your risk of developing dementia."

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