Credit: Firefighters with Parkinson's

According to study author Graham K. Kerr, PhD, of Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, falls are a significant problem for people with Parkinson's as they can lead to injuries and decreased mobility, which can cause increasing weakness, loss of independence and increased use of nursing facilities.

Although the problems and the effects on the health care and society are known, there is little research focused on predicting falls in people with Parkinson's so that we can prevent these falls, said Dr Kerr.

In the study - supported by Parkinson's Queensland Inc., the Queensland University of Technology, and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council - a total of 101 people with Parkinson's disease who were able to walk with any help took a series of tests to evaluate their Parkinson's symptoms, balance and mobility.

The participants reported any falls that took place over a six-month duration.

A majority of the participants were in the early phase of the disease, with an average of six years since being first diagnosed. About 77 per cent had the type of Parkinson's that is primarily characterized by difficulty in voluntary movements, and 20 per cent had tremors as the primary characteristic of their condition.

The findings revealed 48 per cent of the participants had a fall during the study, 24 per cent had more than one fall and 42 per cent had reported they had fallen in the year prior the study.

The tests that were most accurate as predictors as to whether a person was likely to fall involved a test of overall Parkinson's symptoms, a questionnaire related to how regular a person tended to freeze while walking, and a test of balance.

When all of these tests were combined, the results yield a sensitivity of 78 per cent and a specificity of 84 per cent for predicting falls.

Sensitivity is the percentage of actual positives correctly identified as positive, and specificity is the percentage of negatives correctly identified.

Dr Kerr said the tests are easy to implement, and take only a short time to complete. It's easy to take measures to prevent the falls, once they have identified those who are prone to falling.