FRIDAY, March 18, 2022 (HealthDay News) — The vestibular system is an important contributor to balance and fall risk in patients with Alzheimer disease (AD), according to a study published online Feb. 14 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Kevin Biju, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and colleagues conducted a prospective observational study to examine whether vestibular function contributes to balance and fall risk in 48 patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer disease. Vestibular function was assessed using measures of semicircular canal (vestibulo-ocular reflex gain) and saccular function (cervical vestibular-evoked myogenic response); balance function was assessed using the Berg Balance Scale and quantitative posturography.

The researchers found that Alzheimer disease patients exhibited increased medio-lateral (ML) sway in eyes-open and eyes-closed conditions compared with matched controls. Better semicircular canal function in Alzheimer disease patients was associated with lower ML sway and antero-posterior sway in the eyes-closed position. In addition, there was an association observed for better saccular function with lower sway velocity. When adjusting for age, sex, and Mini-Mental State Examination score, there was a significant association noted between semicircular canal function and a lower likelihood of falls (hazard ratio, 0.65).

“Vestibular impairment is treatable with balance exercises performed under the care of a physical therapist,” a coauthor said in a statement. “That could enhance the quality of life for both patients and caregivers.”

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