Researchers at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev in Israel have completed a study analyzing whether a single dose of methylphenidate (MPH) can be used to prevent elderly adults from falling, by improving balance and walking.

The study, published in the July issue of Journals of Gerontology, found that the drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could assist elders who are walking by reducing step errors.

Itshak Melzer, head of BGU's Department of Physical Therapy, said that the drug could especially be helpful when seniors are engaged in "dual tasks" and cognitive attention is focused elsewhere, such as walking and talking, or walking while checking traffic.

"Our findings that MPH improves gait can be explained not just by its effect of attentional improvements, but also by indications that it has a direct influence on areas of the brain that deal with motor and balance control," Melzer said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults over the age of sixty-five experience a fall that can lead to injuries and possibly early death. In 2010, there were 2.3 million non-fatal fall injuries, resulting in 662,000 patients hospitalized.

In the study, 30 healthy adults over the age of 70 were given a single dose of MPH, then asked to complete both single and combined motor and cognitive tasks. Their enhanced attention improved their balance and steps.

In 2008, a study undertaken at Tel Aviv University hinted that ADHD drugs could prove beneficial and therapeutic for the elderly.

"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," Jeffrey Hausdroff, Professor at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, said. "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."

MPH is a psychostimulant drug that is typically used to treat ADHD as well as narcolepsy, a condition characterized by sudden attacks of sleepiness. Methylphenidate inhibits the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine, thus retaining such hormones for a longer period of time and leading to an increase of adrenaline and concentration. Common drugs containing MPH are Ritalin, Concerta, and Methylin.

Though the drug might be helpful in some aspects for elderly people who want to avoid falling, MPH could be mildly addictive as it can euphoria. Side effects potentially include nervousness, dizziness, nausea and loss of appetite.

Source: Shorer Z, Bachner Y, Guy T, Melzer I. Effect of Single Dose Methylphenidate on Walking and Postural Stability Under Single- and Dual-Task Conditions in Older Adults —A Double-Blind Randomized Control Trial. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2013.