A new U.K. study reveals distinct walking variations between people with Lewy body dementia and those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers from Newcastle University in England found that people with Lewy body dementia change their walking steps more often — varying step time and length — and are asymmetric when they move, in comparison to those with Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, suggests gait could be used as a clinical biomarker for various subtypes of dementia and could lead to improved treatment plans for patients.
“The way we walk can reflect changes in thinking and memory that highlight problems in our brain, such as dementia,” said Dr. Ríona McArdle, post-doctoral researcher at Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences and leader of the Alzheimer’s Society-funded study.
“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.
“It is a key development as a more accurate diagnosis means that we know that people are getting the right treatment, care and management for the dementia they have.”
Currently, diagnosis of either type of dementia is made by identifying specific symptoms and, when required, referring to a brain scan.
For the study, researchers analyzed the walking patterns of 110 people, including 29 older adults whose cognition was intact, 36 with Alzheimer’s disease and 45 with Lewy body dementia.
The participants took part in a simple walking test at the Gait Lab of the Clinical Ageing Research Unit. Participants moved along a walkway — a mat with thousands of sensors — which captured their footsteps and gait patterns as they walked across it at their normal speed.
Participants with Lewy body dementia had a unique walking pattern in that they changed how long it took to take a step or the length of their steps more frequently than someone with Alzheimer’s disease, whose walking patterns rarely changed.
When a person has Lewy body dementia, their steps are more irregular, and this is associated with increased fall risk. Their walking is more asymmetric in step time and stride length, meaning their left and right footsteps are different.
Scientists 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.
Further research will aim to identify how these characteristics enhance current diagnostic procedures and assess their effectiveness as a screening method. It is hoped that this tool will be available within five years.
“We know that research will beat dementia and provide invaluable support for the 850,000 people living with the condition in the UK today. It’s now vital that we continue to support promising research of this kind,” said Dr. James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society. “We look forward to seeing larger, longer studies to validate this approach and shed light on the relationship between a person’s gait and dementia diagnosis.”
Source: Newcastle University