Falling May Be Linked To Neurological Disorder In Elderly

February 05, 1998

ANN ARBOR---It's a terrifying aspect of old age: Falling.

Nearly one in three people over age 65 and not living in a nursing home fall each year---and those falls often result in serious injury and significant cost.

In a series of studies begun in the early 1990s, James Richardson, M.D., and colleagues at the University of Michigan Health System have documented a strong link between falling and a neurological disorder called peripheral neuropathy.

In Richardson's studies, more than half the subjects with peripheral neuropathy (PN) had suffered a fall, compared with only 10 percent of the subjects without PN. In fact, Richardson has shown that PN affecting the feet and legs makes elderly people about 20 times more likely to fall.

The body collects information about its position from the peripheral nervous system. PN affects that system, however, and causes people to gradually lose sensation in their feet, legs and, to a lesser extent, hands.

Older adults with PN have difficulty sensing the position of their feet and how much their ankles are turned inward or outward. As a result, their center of gravity can easily shift too far without their realizing it---making them unstable. Also, feet and ankle muscles in people with PN develop strength slowly, so they are far less likely to recover when they wobble.

As many as 20 percent of older adults suffer from peripheral neuropathy, which is particularly common in diabetics.

In one study, PN patients could stand on one foot without teetering for only 3.8 seconds. A similar group without PN achieved 32.3 seconds.

That, Richardson says, means doctors can diagnose PN by observing how long a patient can stand on one foot. An ongoing study, in fact, suggests that a patient's ability to stand on one foot is a better indicator of PN than a detailed physical examination.

Preventive steps that can help people avoid PN-related falls include:* * * * * * *

EDITORS: For more detailed information on Dr. Richardson's research, see these peer-reviewed papers:

1) Moderate Peripheral Neuropathy Impairs Weight Transfer and Unipedal Balance in the Elderly, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, November 1996, pp. 1152-1156.
2) Peripheral Nerve Dysfunction and Falls in the Elderly, Postgraduate Medicine, June 1996, pp. 161-172.
3) A Cane Lowers the Risk of Patients with Peripheral Neuropathy Losing Their Balance, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, May 1996, pp. 446-452.
4) Effects of Peripheral Neuropathy on Ankle Inversion and Eversion Detection Thresholds, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, September 1995, pp. 850-856.
5) Peripheral Neuropathy: A True Risk Factor for Falls, Journal of Gerontology: Medical Science, 1995, 50A(4) pp. 211-15.
6) The Relationship Between Electromyographically Documented Peripheral Neuropathy and Falls, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, October 1992, pp. 1008-1012.
-end-


University of Michigan

Related Rehabilitation Articles from Brightsurf:

Simple measurement could transform injury rehabilitation
Researchers from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia have found a simple way to analyse the effectiveness of exercise training that could one day be conducted easily at a local gym or physio.

Vocational rehabilitation helps lift people with disabilities out of poverty
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits do not always keep individuals with disabilities out of poverty.

Study examines the benefits of virtual stroke rehabilitation programs
While virtual medical and rehabilitation appointments seemed novel when COVID-19 first appeared, they now seem to be part of the new norm and might be paving the way to the future.

How rehabilitation impacts research and care of patients with cerebral palsy
Cerebral palsy (CP) is one of the most common developmental movement disorders in children.

Smartphone accelerometers could help in resistance workouts and rehabilitation protocols
Smartphone accelerometers are effective tools to measure key time-under-tension indicators of muscle training -- and could help in resistance-based workouts and rehabilitation protocols.

Many children in intensive care may not be getting rehabilitation therapy, study shows
Adult patients in hospital intensive care units (ICUs) are often given rehabilitation therapy and urged to keep mobile from an early point in their hospital stays.

Movement study could be significant in helping understand brain rehabilitation
Researchers from the University of Plymouth (UK) and Technical University of Munich (Germany) say their study could be particularly important for those working in rehabilitation and helping people to recover after neurological conditions.

Only 1 in 4 Medicare patients participate in cardiac rehabilitation
Only about 24% of Medicare patients who could receive outpatient cardiac rehabilitation participate in the program.

A conversation could be the answer to successful rehabilitation of prisoners
Researchers have found people on the brink of release from a prison sentence have lost any sense of being connected to the outside world and, as a result, become prejudiced towards wider society.

An artificial skin that can help rehabilitation and enhance virtual reality
EPFL scientists have developed a soft artificial skin that provides haptic feedback and -- thanks to a sophisticated self-sensing mechanism -- has the potential to instantaneously adapt to a wearer's movements.

Read More: Rehabilitation News and Rehabilitation Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.