Walking patterns may help differentiate types of dementia

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The causes of dementia can damage the brain in different ways. Is it possible that these differences may reveal themselves in the way that people walk? A new study that compared walking patterns in people with two types of dementia explored the question.
New research suggests a person’s gait may offer clues into the type of dementia they are living with.
“Alzheimer’s and Lewy body disease have unique signatures of gait impairment,” state the authors in a recent Alzheimer’s & Dementia paper about their findings.
The researchers suggest that the unique impairments to gait — or alterations to walking pattern — may reflect the specific damage that each disease inflicts on mental function and the brain.
Should further studies corroborate the findings, the researchers suggest that walking pattern could become a useful and inexpensive addition to the medical toolbox for diagnosing different types of dementia.
“It is a key development,” says first study author Ríona McArdle, Ph.D., of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, “as a more accurate diagnosis means that we know that people are getting the right treatment, care, and management for the dementia they have.”
Dementia is the name that doctors give to a cluster of symptoms that includes difficulties with remembering and thinking together with behavior changes that interfere with daily living. Some people with dementia can also struggle to pay attention and concentrate, find it difficult to control their emotions, and experience changes in personality.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 50 million people with dementia worldwide. Every year, up to 10 million people develop the condition.
The WHO also estimate that 5–8% of the global population that is 60 years of age and older has dementia.
There are many types of dementia, depending on the underlying cause. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common dementia in older people. Other forms include Lewy body, vascular, and frontotemporal dementia. A person can also have more than one type.
Alzheimer’s disease and other common causes of dementia lead to irreversible damage to the brain and become worse over time. There is currently no cure for these progressive neurodegenerative conditions.
For the new study, McArdle and her colleagues focused on Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia. In both conditions, toxic protein deposits kill nerve cells, or neurons, and lead to irreversible brain damage.
In Alzheimer’s disease, the damage begins in the hippocampus, a brain area that is essential for memory formation. In Lewy body dementia, the damage hits parts of the brain that control movement and certain aspects of memory.

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