May 10, 2021

Your gait may open new gates for Alzheimer’s diagnosis

A person’s walking patterns could hold clues to whether they have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

A new study found that the way a person walks—known as their gait—could provide signs of neurological diseases, and even help doctors differentiate between various types of dementia.

Walking as a clinical tool for diagnosis

There is currently no one way to diagnose dementia or Alzheimer’s when a person is still alive. It’s only through examining brain tissue after death that these diseases can be officially diagnosed.

Doctors do, however, use things like memory tests or MRIs to give them clues about a person’s state of cognitive health. These tests, often used in combination with one another, can help doctors sift through patients and decide who likely has dementia and will require treatment and care.

Now, testing the way a person walks may become yet another clinical tool to help hone in on a patient’s brain health.

What your walk talks about you!

The new study focused on how people walk depending on whether they have Alzheimer’s disease or Lewy body dementia. Lewy body dementia causes a decline in memory and movement, and is the second most common type of progressive dementia next to Alzheimer’s.

The researchers examined 110 people in the study: 29 older adults with healthy cognition, 36 people with Alzheimer’s disease and 45 people who had Lewy body dementia. At the Gait Lab of the Clinical Ageing Research Unit at Newcastle University, which studies mobility in older people, the participants completed a walking test along a walkway dotted with sensors. The walkway sensors measured their footsteps, speed and walking patterns.

The study results showed that participants with Lewy body dementia had a unique irregular gait. They were more likely to show changes in the length of their steps, as well as how long it took for them to take a step. People with Alzheimer’s disease, meanwhile, showed little to no changes in their walking patterns.

Simply using information from this walking test could accurately identify 60 percent of dementia types, the study concluded.

“The way we walk can reflect changes in thinking and memory that highlight problems in our brain, such as dementia. The results from this study are exciting as they suggest that walking could be a useful tool to add to the diagnostic toolbox for dementia.”

– Dr. Riona McArdle, post-doctoral researcher at Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences and lead author of the study

Next steps

The researchers’ next steps will involve more deeply examining walking patterns among people with dementia and learning more about how measuring walking could improve current screening methods and diagnostic tests.

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