Dementia is a wide-reaching term that covers a number of progressive conditions of the brain and proper diagnosis is essential for treating it effectively. Now, scientists from Newcastle University believe that analysing a patient’s walk could hold the key to determining which form of dementia they have.
A major new study proved that those with Lewy body dementia move around differently to people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Lewy patients vary their steps more than those with Alzheimer’s, with inconsistent step length and time being observed. A practical effect of this is an increased risk of falls.
Going forward, this breakthrough suggests doctors will be able to conduct simple walking tests to diagnose subtypes of dementia without the need for brain scans. Not only will this save the NHS money but also spare patients the distress of being scanned.
The research involved 110 people, consisting of 29 older adults who didn’t display any symptoms of dementia; 36 people with Alzheimer’s disease; and 45 diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. Accuracy at identifying subtypes of dementia through gait alone was found to be 60 per cent.
Dr Ríona McArdle led the research, which was funded by the Alzheimer's Society. She said: “The way we walk can reflect changes in thinking and memory that highlight problems in our brain, such as dementia.
“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.”
Dementia is estimated to be affecting some 850,000 people living in the UK today and that number is expected to rise to two million by the year 2050. Despite scientists working on treatments across the world, there is currently no cure and the emphasis is on prevention and early diagnosis.
Families can look out for elderly relatives by being aware of the symptoms of dementia and taking them to see their GP if they suspect it could be starting to take hold. Among the telltale signs are memory loss, mood swings and changes to an individual’s language.
Since there are more than 100 different diseases that can cause dementia, the condition is a complicated area to resolve. All of the forms of dementia have their own symptoms, challenges and responses to drugs and treatments, therefore patients need to have their subtype identified as early as possible.
Dr James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This research – funded by the Alzheimer’s Society – is pioneering for dementia. It shows promise in helping to establish a novel approach to accurately diagnose different types of dementia.”