A slow or uneven gait in older patients may be more than the effect of advancing age, according to three studies that found walking disorders in the elderly also may be early signs of Alzheimer's disease.
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The studies sampled a combined 4,000 people, finding that pace, rhythm and the size of steps changed with neurological illness, according to information presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Vancouver.
Watching an older patient walk into an exam room may offer a first clue that psychological evaluation needs to be done, said William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer for the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association. Since people with Alzheimer's are more likely to suffer a debilitating fall than healthy peers, this simple observation may help patients get the right care and prevent injury and disability.
"One of the attractions for me is that observing gait is not particularly high-tech and can be done in simple ways," Thies said. "We have lots of primary care physicians sometimes having difficulty picking out patients that need further evaluation. This is a potential tool -- not for diagnosis, but for knowing who needs more evaluation."
One study of more 1,100 people with an average age of 77 found that people with Alzheimer's disease walked more slowly and with a more irregular pattern of steps as their minds declined. Even people with a pre-Alzheimer's condition, called mild cognitive impairment, walked more sluggishly and variably than the normal elderly, according to the study led by Stephanie Bridenbaugh, from the Basel Mobility Center in Switzerland.
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