Walking patterns may help identify specific types of dementia

In a new study, researchers found walking may be a key clinical tool in helping medics accurately identify the specific type of dementia.

They found that people with Alzheimer’s disease or Lewy body dementia have unique walking patterns that signal subtle differences between the two conditions.

The research was conducted by a team from Newcastle University.

According to the team, the way people walk can reflect changes in thinking and memory that highlight problems in our brain, such as dementia.

In the study, the researchers analyzed the walk of 110 people, including 29 older adults whose cognition was intact, 36 with Alzheimer’s disease and 45 with Lewy body dementia.

Participants moved along a walkway—a mat with thousands of sensors inside—which captured their footsteps as they walked across it at their normal speed and this revealed their walking patterns.

The team found that people with Lewy body dementia change their walking steps more—varying step time and length—and are asymmetric when they move, in comparison to those with Alzheimer’s disease.

When a person has Lewy body dementia, their steps are more irregular and this is associated with increased falls risk.

Their walking is more asymmetric in step time and stride length, meaning their left and right footsteps look different to each other.

The team found that analyzing both step length variability and step time asymmetry could accurately identify 60% of all dementia subtypes—which has never been shown before.

This is the first big step towards establishing gait as a clinical biomarker for various subtypes of the disease and could lead to improved treatment plans for patients.

Correctly identifying what type of dementia someone has is important for clinicians and researchers as it allows patients to be given the most appropriate treatment for their needs as soon as possible.

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.

The lead author of the study is Dr. Ríona McArdle, Post-Doctoral Researcher at Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences.

The study is published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

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