Bone-breaking injuries suffered by people with Parkinson's disease could be reduced thanks to a drug used to treat dementia, a study has found.
Researchers discovered that giving patients the "breakthrough" medication rivastigmine reduced their chances of falling by 45%, while also steadying their walking. The oral drug is commonly prescribed in the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer's to help improve symptoms including those affecting thinking and memory.
Around 70% of people suffering from Parkinson's experience a fall at least once a year, with more than a third (39%) saying they fall repeatedly, the report published in the Lancet Neurology journal said.
Such falls often lead to broken bones.
Over an eight-month period, scientists from the University of Bristol gave the drug to half of a group of 130 Parkinson's sufferers who had fallen in the last year.
Study participant Caroline Maxwell, from Northamptonshire, said the treatment would give her the "confidence" to leave the house by herself.
Mrs Maxwell, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's 13 years ago, said: "A few years ago, I had a bad fall while carrying my sewing machine across the room, leaving me in hospital for a week and really denting my confidence.
"By potentially finding a treatment that helps to prevent falls, I'd be able to get a replacement hip and have the confidence to go shopping on my own, without having to constantly rely on the goodness of strangers to pick me up when I fell."
Parkinson's is a disease which worsens over time, slowing the movement of those who suffer from it, as well as leading to tremors. There is currently no cure.
Around one in every 500 of the population, or 127,000 people, suffer from the condition in the UK, according to the charity Parkinson's UK, which helped fund the study.
Lead researcher and Parkinson's UK research fellow Dr Emily Henderson said: "With the degeneration of dopamine-producing nerve cells, people with Parkinson's often have issues with unsteadiness when walking.
"As part of the condition, they also have lower levels of acetylcholine, a chemical which helps us to concentrate - making it extremely difficult to pay attention to walking.
"We already know that rivastigmine works to treat dementia by preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine, however our study shows for the first time that it can also improve regularity of walking, speed, and balance. This is a real breakthrough in reducing the risk of falls for people with Parkinson's."