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Could your walking style predict dementia?

Could your walking style predict dementia?
10th November 2014

A new study at Essex University will examine the relationship between how a person walks and their chances of developing dementia.

Researchers plan to use specialised computer software to track the movements of 1,000 volunteers over the age of 55. The subjects will then be monitored and tested regularly over the next ten years, according to the Daily Mail.

It is hoped that patterns will emerge, showing a correlation between walking style and the development of dementia or other neurological diseases - such as Parkinson's - later in life.

Previous research has already demonstrated that patients with Alzheimer's walk more slowly and hold themselves differently as they move, compared to people without the condition. These changes also become more prominent as a patient’s condition deteriorates.

The new research is expected to provide medical professionals with more information about how gait and development of these conditions are related. It is also hoped that GPs may be able to spot possible signs of such conditions sooner and therefore be able to provide early treatments or additional tests as appropriate.

Dr Mathew Taylor, a specialist in biomechanics at Essex University, explained that the purpose of the study is to get a better understanding in how a person's movements could predict dementia. He points out that physiotherapists have noticed that patients have reduced arm swing, but those observations are currently only anecdotal.

"Such a change in arm swing could be an earlier indication of dementia than reduced walking speed, or perhaps some other aspect of changing gait we don’t know about yet," he added.

The study will also look at how walking style changes among patients with Parkinson's and it may also benefit those who are prone to losing their balance. Dr Taylor says that injuries from falls costs the NHS £1 billion each year, "so there is a pressing need to see if it can be prevented".

Last month, NHS England announced a plan to pay GPs £55 for every new case of dementia that they diagnose. However, the scheme sparked controversy as senior doctors warned it could lead to misdiagnoses.

Read more about Barchester's dementia care homes.