A commonly prescribed dementia drug, known as rivastigmine, has been found to significantly improve balance and reduce falls in patients with Parkinson’s disease, according to new research published in the journal The Lancet Neurology.
“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,” said Dr. Emily Henderson, research fellow at Parkinson’s UK and lead researcher of the study at the University of Bristol.
The findings show that patients with Parkinson’s who were given the oral drug rivastigmine were 45 percent less likely to fall and were considerably steadier while walking, compared to those on placebo.
“Things that may be simple to us, such as walking upstairs or getting up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water, or go to the toilet, are much harder and more dangerous when you could easily fall. You risk breaking bones and then needing an emergency hospital admission,” said Dr. Arthur Roach, Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK.
For the study, a research team at the University of Bristol studied 130 people with Parkinson’s who had fallen in the past year. Half of the group were given rivastigmine capsules and the other half a placebo for a period of eight months.
“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,” said Henderson.
Parkinson’s affects approximately seven million people worldwide. It is estimated that about 70 percent of people with Parkinson’s will fall at least once a year, with over one-third experiencing repeated falls, resulting in fractures, broken bones, and hospital admissions.
“People affected by Parkinson’s, their carers, and health and social care professionals have said that preventing falls and improving balance is the biggest unmet need for people living with the condition, other than finding a cure,” said Roach.
“This trial shows that there may be drugs already available, being used for other purposes, that can be tested to help treat Parkinson’s. This takes us a step closer to improving the quality of life and finding better treatments for people with Parkinson’s.”