Dual Gait Analysis Can Aid Early Diagnosis of Dementia

A new approach that assesses ambulation while performing a cognitively demanding task is an effective predictor of progression to dementia.

In a new study, researchers at Canada’s Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University discovered gait analysis while simultaneously performing mental tasks is a new way to assess cognitive decline.

To date, there has been no definitive way for health care professionals to forecast the onset of dementia in a patient with memory complaints. Experts believe early detection of dementia can lead to halting its progression.

Dr. Manuel Montero-Odasso, a geriatrician and associate professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, is leading the “Gait and Brain Study.”

His team is assessing up to 150 seniors with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a slight decline of memory and other mental functions which is considered a pre-dementia syndrome, in order to detect an early predictor of cognitive and mobility decline and progression to dementia.

“Finding methods to detect dementia early is vital to our ability to slow or halt the progression of the disease,” said Montero-Odasso.

The study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, followed participants for six years and included bi-annual visits.

Researchers asked participants to walk while simultaneously performing a cognitively demanding task, such as counting backwards or naming animals.

They have discovered that individuals with MCI that slow down more than 20 percent while performing a cognitively demanding task are at a higher risk of progressing to dementia.

“While walking has long been considered an automatic motor task, emerging evidence suggests cognitive function plays a key role in the control of walking, avoidance of obstacles, and maintenance of navigation,” Montero-Odasso said.

“We believe that gait, as a complex brain-motor task, provides a golden window of opportunity to see brain function.”

The “gait cost,” or speed at which participants completed a single task (walking) versus a dual-task, was higher in those MCI individuals with worse episodic memory and who struggle with executive functions such as attention keeping and time management.

“Our results reveal a ‘motor signature’ of cognitive impairment that can be used to predict dementia,” said Montero-Odasso.

“It is conceivable that we will be able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias before people even have significant memory loss. Our hope is to combine these methods with promising new medications to slow or halt the progression of MCI to dementia.”

The study appears in the journal JAMA Neurology.

Source: Lawson Health Research Institute