Pearl of the Month

Fall prevention advice for patients with Parkinson’s


A 75-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease has had three falls over the past 4 weeks. He has been compliant with his Parkinson’s treatment. Which of the following options would most help decrease his fall risk?

A. Vitamin D supplementation

B. Vitamin B12 supplementation

C. Calcium supplementation

D. Tai chi

Falls are a catastrophic problem in our elderly population, and are especially common in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

There has been recent evidence that vitamin D supplementation is not helpful in preventing falls in most community-dwelling older adults. Bolland and colleagues performed a meta-analysis of 81 randomized, controlled trials and found that vitamin D supplementation does not prevent fractures or falls.1 They found no difference or benefit in high-dose versus low-dose vitamin D supplementation.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against vitamin D supplementation for the purpose of preventing falls in community-dwelling adults over the age of 65.2 The same USPSTF report recommends exercise intervention, as having the strongest evidence for fall prevention in community-dwelling adults age 65 or older who are at risk for falls.

The benefits of tai chi

Tai chi with it’s emphasis on balance, strength training as well as stress reduction is an excellent option for older adults.

Lui and colleagues performed a meta-analyses of five randomized, controlled trials (355 patients) of tai chi in patients with Parkinson disease.3 Tai chi significantly decreased fall rates (odds ratio, 0.47; 95% confidence interval, 0.30-0.74; P = .001) and significantly improved balance and functional mobility (P < .001) in people with Parkinson disease, compared with no training.

Tai chi can also help prevent falls in a more general population of elderly patients. Lomas-Vega and colleagues performed a meta-analysis of 10 high-quality studies that met inclusion criteria evaluating tai chi for fall prevention.4 Fall risk was reduced over short-term follow-up (incident rate ratio, 0.57; 95% CI, 0.46-0.70) and a small protective effect was seen over long-term follow-up (IRR, 0.87; 95% CI, 0.77-0.98).

Pearl: Consider tai chi in your elderly patients with fall risk to increase their balance and reduce risks of falls.

Dr. Paauw is professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine at the University of Washington, Seattle, and serves as third-year medical student clerkship director at the University of Washington. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Internal Medicine News. Dr. Paauw has no conflicts to disclose. Contact him at


1. Bolland MJ et al. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2018;6(11):847.

2. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. JAMA. 2018;319(16):1696.

3. Liu HH et al. Parkinsons Dis. 2019 Feb 21;2019:9626934

4. Lomas-Vega R et al. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017;65(9):2037.

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