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In six months, 48 fell at least once. The risk of falling was nearly three times greater for each unit of increase in the sticky plaque that scans revealed in their brains.

“Falls are tricky” because they can be medication-related or due to dizziness from high blood pressure, a blood vessel problem or other diseases like Parkinson’s, said Creighton Phelps, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging.

Falls also can cause head injury or brain trauma that leads to cognitive problems, said Laurie Ryan, who oversees some of the institute’s research grants but had no role in the study. Older people who hit their heads and suffer a small tear or bleeding in the brain might seem fine but develop symptoms a month later, she said.

The bottom line: “If you see somebody who’s having falls for no particular reason,” the person should be evaluated for dementia, said William Thies, the Alzheimer's Association’s scientific director.

The warning signs of Alzheimer’s:

_Memory loss that disrupts daily life

_Trouble planning or solving problems

_Difficulty completing tasks

_Confusion with time or place

_Trouble understanding images and spatial relationships

_New problems with speaking or writing words

_Misplacing things and inability to retrace steps

_Decreased or poor judgment

_Social withdrawal

_Changes in mood or personality

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