Parkinson’s and Falling: Understanding the Connection

According to data from Bristol University and Parkinson’s UK, up to 60% of individuals with Parkinson’s fall each year. Two-thirds of those individuals will fall more than once a year. This puts these individuals at risk of serious injuries that could further impact their quality of life. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

The key to preventing accidents is understanding the relationship between Parkinson’s and falling. People with Parkinson’s fall due to a combination of physical and cognitive factors. Still, there are ways to assist the brain and body in completing this complex gross motor task. A few small changes can help you or your loved one overcome this common challenge.

Continue reading to learn our Parkinson’s Disease fall prevention tips and how to take control of your mobility.

The Link Between Falls and Parkinson’s Disease

According to the American Parkinson’s Disease Association, there are two broad types of Parkinson’s disease. They are tremor-dominant Parkinson’s Disease and Partial Instability Gait Difficulty.

The majority of individuals with the disease fall into the former category. Their primary symptom is tremors throughout the body. In these individuals, falls take place because of general instability and the need to compensate for physical weakness.

The other 25% of individuals experience partial instability and gait difficulty. Their primary symptoms include a shuffling gait and balance difficulties. Thus, those with this type of Parkinson’s are more likely to experience semi-regular falls.

What Stage of Parkinson’s Involves Falling?

Typically, professionals describe Parkinson’s disease using five stages of progression. It is around stage three when most people begin to experience bilateral symptoms (or symptoms on both sides of the body). This is when balance issues are most likely to begin and when the majority of falls occur.

Reasons People With Parkinson’s Fall

Individuals without Parkinson’s disease are capable of multi-tasking while walking. For example, they might maintain an inner monologue, carry on a conversation, or make observations about their surroundings.

In contrast, people with Parkinson’s must use more mental resources to compensate for the physical symptoms of the disease. Navigating with tremors, balance issues, or gait challenges requires additional focus. It’s like constantly trying to walk on cobblestones in heels.

They must also divert mental resources to account for absent chemicals in the brain. Focusing requires more energy.  While people with this condition must work harder to overcome challenges in the environment, mobility and independence are worth the effort!

The most common causes of falls are:

  • Posture Change
    The most common cause of falls is posture change, such as getting up, sitting down, or navigating a curb.

This is because individuals with Parkinson’s may experience a tendency to lean backward when standing. That is why there is a connection between Parkinson’s and falling backward. It happens most often when individuals rise from a chair. It’s also responsible for the relationship between Parkinson’s and falling out of bed.

  • Change in Direction
    Pivoting is a complex motor function that requires the brain and body to work in concert. Individuals with Parkinson’s may lack the mental cues that help them navigate such transitions. They can often benefit from visual or audio cueing to help with decision-making.
  • Simultaneous Activities
    Many falls are the result of attempts to multitask while walking. Individuals with Parkinson’s sometimes struggle with this, as they are used to chatting or taking in the scenery during a stroll.

How People With Parkinson’s Can Prevent Falls

Individuals with Parkinson’s engage in gentle exercise to compensate for their physical symptoms While people with Parkinson’s are more likely to fall than those without the condition, falling is not inevitable! There are many things you can do to decrease the likelihood of falling and sustaining an injury.

Adapt Your Environment

Believe it or not, most falls at home are due to ordinary causes, such as tripping over furniture. People tend to feel more comfortable at home, which makes them more likely to relax and divert their attention. It’s important to ensure that the home environment is clear of obstacles and adapted for special mobility needs.

Incorporate Exercise

Regular exercise can help those diagnosed with Parkinson’s compensate for the physical symptoms of the disease. Focus on flexibility and balance. You may wish to work with a physical or occupational therapist to develop a safe routine. Many people see a big improvement after incorporating a daily walk through their community.

You can also compensate for the tendency to lean backward using mindfulness. Try practicing leaning forward during posture changes. It’s difficult to form new habits, but consistency can help you remain safe at any age!

Consider a Cueing System

Individuals who struggle with directional shifts may benefit from a signaling device like NexStride. This device provides a subtle visual and audio cue that can help the brain attend to mobility tasks, preventing falls.

Prevent Future Falls With NexStride

There has been a connection between Parkinson’s and falling since James Parkinson first observed the condition in 1817. Still, there are many small steps you can take to decrease the likelihood of accidents at any stage of the disease.

If you or a loved one worries about falls, NexStride is a science-informed solution that can help. Shop this research-backed device and reduce your risk of falling in the future.

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