A simple walking test has been devised that could help to diagnose the type of dementia a patient is suffering from. The new study, which has been carried out by scientists at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany, is particularly important, as the difference can dictate whether the condition can be reversed.
Identifying the dementia trigger has proven difficult in the past, but asking a patient to walk while doing something else at the same can offer the answer. Scientists found that getting a person to carry a tray or count backwards while taking steps differentiated between idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus (iNPH) and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP).
iNPH occurs as a result of excess fluid on the brain and, most importantly, can be reversed. Up until now, diagnosing it has been almost impossible, as the symptoms are similar to those of PSP. Walking, balance and cognitive impairment occur in both conditions, but PSP is the result of nerve cell damage in the brain. PSP is incurable, so any treatment works to ease the symptoms as opposed to reverse the condition.
For the study, 27 people with iNPH, 38 with PSP and 38 healthy adults were tested. They all underwent a neurologic exam, an MRI scan and various cognitive tests. All participants were able to walk 30 feet unassisted, but it was when an extra element - carrying a tray or counting backwards - was added that the difference could be seen.
Those with PSP slowed their walking speed considerably more when counting backwards than the test subjects with iNPH. In the tray-carrying scenario, the iNPH patients actually got quicker, while the PSP sufferers slowed down.
Study author Dr Charlotte Selge said: “Our findings suggest that adding these dual-task tests would be an inexpensive and effective way to improve diagnosis of iNPH. Future studies may want to increase the complexity of tasks to see if they provide even more accuracy as well as insight into how the two diseases affect gait.”