NEW YORK ,01 april 2009– A simple balance test may help doctors predict a decline in memory and brain function in people with Alzheimer's disease, research shows.
In a study, researchers found that Alzheimer's patients with an abnormal one-leg balance test experienced greater decline in brain function over 2 years than those with a normal one-leg balance test.
"Our results reinforce, in an Alzheimer's disease population, the growing evidence suggesting a link between physical performances and cognitive decline," study chief Dr. Yves Rolland, of the University of Toulouse III, France, noted in a written statement.
"If these results are confirmed by other data, the one-leg balance test could be adopted in clinical practice to identify Alzheimer's disease patients at high risk of rapid cognitive decline," the researcher added.
According to a report of the study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 686 patients with Alzheimer's disease were evaluated by a geriatrician every six months for up to two years, and their degree of cognitive impairment was measured.
At the same time, a "one-leg balance" test was given, where a participant was asked to stand on one leg for as long as possible. The test was considered abnormal when the participant was unable to stand on one leg for 5 seconds or more.
At the outset, roughly 15 percent of the study subjects had an abnormal one-leg balance test and these patients were significantly older and had significantly more severe cognitive impairment.
In analyses taking into account factors that might influence the results, the researchers found that subjects with an abnormal one-leg balance test had significantly greater decline in memory and thinking at 12, 18, and 24 months.
For example, the average decline on the Mini-Mental State Examination at 24 months was 9.2 points when balance impairment was present, compared with just 3.8 points with no balance impairment.
"The one-leg balance test is a stress test that may characterize subjects with low cognitive reserve," Rolland and colleagues conclude.
SOURCE: Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, March 2009.