Looking at different patterns in the way older adults walk could help doctors to more accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s disease as well as different types of dementia.
A recent study evaluated the walking patterns and brain function of 500 participants currently enrolled in clinical trials. It identified four independent gait patterns – rhythm, pace, variability and postural control – in older adults across the cognitive spectrum, including cognitively healthy people as well as those with cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia and frontotemporal dementia.
High gait variability, which means stride-to-stride changes in distance and timing as a person walks, identified Alzheimer’s disease with 70% accuracy, and was the only pattern consistently associated with lower cognitive performance.
“This is the first strong evidence showing that gait variability is an important marker for processes happening in areas of the brain that are linked to both cognitive impairment and motor control,” said Dr. Manuel Montero-Odasso, a geriatrician at St. Joseph’s Health Care London and an international expert on dementia and gait disorders. “Now, we’re seeing that motor performance, specifically the way you walk, can help diagnose different types of neurodegenerative disorders.
“We see gait variability being similar to an arrhythmia. Healthcare providers could measure it with patients in the clinic, similar to how we assess heart rhythm with electrocardiograms,” he added. The study’s findings were published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.