Falls by elderly people often result in hip fractures that require joint replacement and result in pain and disability.

Now researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba have discovered that a single dose of a drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can reduce the risk of falls in the elderly.

The medication is methylphenidate (MPH), which is used to treat both ADHD and narcolepsy (chronic sleepiness).

The drug, said Itshak Melzer of the Schwartz Movement Analysis and Rehabilitation Laboratory of BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences, “helps improve balance control during walking, hence reducing the risk of falls among elderly adults.”

According to a study just published in The Journals of Gerontology, the BGU researchers found that a single dose of MPH improves walking by reducing the number of step errors and the step error rate in both single and dual tasks.

“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 Melzer.

“This is especially true in reallife situations, where the requirement to walk commonly occurs under more complicated, dual-task circumstances with cognitive attention focused elsewhere (such as watching traffic and talking) and not on performing a specific motor task.”

The study participants were 30 healthy adults at least 70 years of age that had the ability to walk 20 meters without personal assistance or an assistive device. The participants were given a single, 10 mg. dose of MPH and were assessed under 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,” Meltzer explained. “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.”

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