Most of us think of Ritalin as a drug used to treat attention-deficit disorder in childhood. But new research suggests Ritalin use in the elderly may lower their risk for serious falls.

 In a small study from Israel, researchers evaluated 26 healthy seniors for their risk of falling before giving them Ritalin or a placebo. The subjects were then asked to perform the “Timed Up and Go” test, which requires they stand up from a chair, walk about ten feet, walk back and sit down. The test served as a proxy for falling risk because the longer it takes to accomplish the task, the greater the fall risk, the researchers said.

 Those who took Ritalin performed the test more quickly and had less variability in their “stride time,” a common sign of instability, the researchers said. The finding was reported in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Early research on those with Parkinson’s disease also shows that Ritalin may help decrease the risk of falling in those patients.

 The data from such a small study are unlikely to lead to widespread prescribing of Ritalin to prevent falls in the elderly. More important, said researchers, is the evidence that walking and stability are complex, and not just about physical ability but about cognitive ability as well.

 “Our study suggests that it may be possible to reduce the risk of falls in older adults by treating cognitive deficits associated with aging and disease,” said Jeffrey M. Hausdorff, a lecturer at both Harvard Medical School and the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, in a press release. “This is consistent with a growing body of literature which has demonstrated that walking is not a simple, automated task, as it was once believed. We’ve taken this idea a step further and shown that you can capitalize on this dependence on cognitive function and use it to reduce the risk of falls.”

josh childsRitalin for Seniors