In elderly adults, just a single dose of the drug methylphenidate (MPH), or Ritalin — typically prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy — helps improve balance control while walking, according to a study published in The Journals of Gerontology.
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) found that just one dose of the drug helped improve walking ability in seniors by reducing the number of step errors and the step error rate in both single and dual tasks (e.g. walking while attention is focused elsewhere, such as talking to a friend or crossing the street).
In older adults, falling down is the leading cause of hip fractures and other injury-related visits to hospital emergency rooms and of accidental death. This is often due to age-related deterioration in gait and balance.
“Our results add to a growing body of evidence showing that MPH may have a role as a therapeutic option for improving gait and reducing fall risk in older adults,” said Itshak Melzer of BGU’s Schwartz Movement Analysis and Rehabilitation Laboratory, Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Health Sciences.
“This is especially true in real-life situations, where the requirement to walk commonly occurs under more complicated, ‘dual task’ circumstances with cognitive attention focused elsewhere and not on performing a specific motor task.”
The study involved 30 healthy older adults who were at least 70 years old and had the ability to walk 70 feet (20 meters) without personal assistance or an assistive device. The subjects were given a single dose (10 mg) of MPH and were evaluated during four task conditions of single and combined motor and cognitive tasks.
“The enhanced attention that comes about as a result of MPH may lead to improved balance control during walking, especially in dual task conditions,” said Meltzer.
“Our findings that MPH improves gait can be explained not just by its effect of attentional improvements, but also by indications that it has a direct influence on areas of the brain that deal with motor and balance control.”