Seniors in the earliest stages Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to suffer a fall, according to new research presented at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. Researchers found that cognitively healthy older adults whose brains showed signs of beta-amyloid plaques, one of the hallmarks of the disease, had twice the risk of experiencing a fall, but added that further study is needed.

The health-care costs associated with falls is estimated to top $19 billion annually in the U.S. Falls can lead to immobility, earlier admission to assisted living facilities, other disabilities and even death. Alzheimer’s sufferers struggle with visual and spatial perception issues, which may put them at higher risk of a fall.

Susan Stark, the physician who spearheaded the study, said, “To our knowledge, this is the first study to identify a risk of increased falls related to a diagnosis of pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease.”

Researchers used a diagnostic technique called positron emission tomography to search for signs of beta-amyloid plaques, a brain deposit that is a hallmark of the disease, in 125 older patients. They discovered that patients with signs of brain deposits experienced falls at a rate 2.7 times higher than those who did not.

The data support new evidence that changes are occurring in the brains of people who will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease years and even decades before outward symptoms appear.

For more on Alzheimer’s disease, see:

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