Alzheimer’s has become an increasingly prevalent disease, and as such it’s one that many people have experienced on a personal level with their family members.
It can be difficult to notice when someone first starts to suffer from the condition, as the signs are fairly common side effects of aging, and even some doctors have failed to notice the beginning of the disease in their own immediate families.
Because early detection is so important that many scientists are invested in finding ways to identify and classify people who may be suffering from dementia early on.
In one study that came out of Newcastle University in September 2019, scientists discovered that “[w]alking may be a key clinical tool in helping medics accurately identify the specific type of dementia a patient has.”
“The way we walk can reflect changes in thinking and memory that highlight problems in our brain, such as dementia,” Dr. Ríona McArdle, the researcher who led the study, said, according to Science Daily.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
Dr. James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, added, “In this well conducted study we can see for the first time that the way we walk may provide clues which could help us distinguish between Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia.”
Not only can walking be used to differentiate between the two kinds of dementia, but researchers in Texas are finding that the way people walk may be able to indicate whether an individual might deal with Alzheimer’s in the future.
“What we are trying to understand is, by examining gait, will we be able to capture very, very early risk,” Dr. Mini Jacob at the Glenn Biggs Institute of UT Health San Antonio said, according to Ivanhoe.
“We hope to be able to identify the pathways — how is gait related to changes in the brain,” Jacob said. “And, hopefully, we’ll also come up with some interventions — preventive interventions.”
Those working on the study hope to find “a system that measures … and predicts … those at increased risk” by analyzing a person’s “unique walking signature,” according to Ivanhoe.
The test involves a person walking across a gait mat while being asked to perform a simple cognitive task, such as listing various sorts of animals. Researchers believe that any resulting pauses or stumbles in gait while the person works on the thought task could indicate a predisposition to the disease or, at the very least, a cognitive decline.
“If I think I slowed down walking or almost have to stop. And then, if I concentrate on my walking, I cannot think,” one older gentleman, James Cogan, said. “Many times, I’m out there in my shop and I come in the house, and when I get inside, I say, ‘What did I come in here for?'”
Plenty of people without Alzheimer’s experience the phenomenon Cogan referenced, so more research will have to be done to see if this method can pinpoint the difference between general cognitive issues and specific forms of dementia.
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