In the United States, as many as 5.1 million adults have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Alzheimer’s disease is a common type of dementia, a neurological condition in which the patient suffers from a loss of brain function.
Patients with Alzheimer’s disease experience changes in their behavior and cognitive function.
Before developing Alzheimer’s disease, individuals may display symptoms of mild cognitive impairment, though not every individual who has mild cognitive impairment will develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Signs of mild cognitive impairment include difficulty with problem solving and working on more than one task at a given time. Trouble remembering recent conversations and events may occur with mild cognitive impairment.
Displaying trouble with memory has been one of the main warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease, noted the Alzheimer’s Association. But it may be an individual’s gait that can be an even earlier warning sign of cognitive impairment that can occur with Alzheimer’s disease.
At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia in July 2012, five studies were presented on the connection between changing gait and cognitive function.
Some of the studies measured gait by using an electronic walkway, which can measure changes in the individual’s stride, the width of her stride, walking speed, and the number of steps she takes per minute.
One of the studies presented looked at specific parts of gait and whether they were associated with certain cognitive domains. The study took place in the Netherlands and included 1,232 individuals from The Rotterdam Study who were age 49 or older.
A press release from the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference reported associations between fine motor speed and the amount of errors in a tandem walk, information processing speed and gait rhythm, and executive function and variability and pace.
This study did not find an association with memory and aspects of gait.
Another study conducted in Basel, Switzerland measured gait in individuals in three groups. These groups were individuals who were cognitively healthy, individuals who had mild cognitive impairment, and individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, ranging from mild to severe.
The results from the study showed that “gait became slower and more variable as cognitive decline progressed,” according to the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference press release.
Other studies presented at the conference found a connection between decreased gait velocity and increased severity of dementia symptoms, as well as connections with lower cadence and stride length.
Alzheimer’s Association. 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Web. 1 August 2012
Alzheimer’s Association International Conference Press Release. New Research Indicates Gait Changes Could Signal Increased Risk for Cognitive Impairment.. Web. 1 August 2012
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Alzheimer’s Disease. Web. 1 August 2012
National Institute on Aging. Alzheimer’s Basics. Web. 1 August 2012
The New York Times. Footprints to Cognitive Decline and Alzheimer’s are Seen in Gait. Web. 1 August 2012
Reviewed August 1, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith