Can Change in Gait Indicate Bigger Problems?

The shuffle.

It’s something we’ve come to accept as a normal part of aging, or as a result of certain medical conditions—following a stroke or coinciding with the onset of Parkinson’s disease. But what if there was more to this sometimes-gradual change in a person’s gait? What if it indicated a shift in cognitive function? Research is beginning to investigate possible connections between the way people walk and their ability to think. As well, there is the possibility that changes in gait may be an early indicator of cognitive impairment stemming from conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, it is important to take note of an elderly gait.

Recent studies:

AlzheimersRecent studies suggest that thinking skills—memory, planning activities or processing information—decline at nearly the same rate as the ability to walk steadily and information increasingly points to a correlation between trouble walking and difficulty thinking.

A number of studies utilize a dual-tasking testing system to help uncover problems. They ask subjects to simultaneously perform thinking and movement tasks such as walking while counting to 50. While still inconclusive, the results of these tests revealed that subjects who walked more slowly or inconsistently did worse on cognitive tests. The worst of these were suffering the most severe Alzheimer’s. This may indicate that the brain is sufficiently compromised as to be unable to coordinate and efficiently manage more than one task.

Seeming correlation.

This seeming correlation could be an indicator for earlier diagnosis and treatment for conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Once the studies are conclusive, action can be taken. The hope is to integrate an observation-based screening protocol that can be used during routine examinations by doctors, or physical therapy sessions.

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