Today, about 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. As baby boomers continue to age that number is expected to balloon to 16 million or more by 2050. Though researchers have yet to develop effective treatments for the disease, new research shows that specific, early physical symptoms may be a good indicator of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers recently released a study at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in July that shows that Alzheimer’s disease may exhibit itself as a change in a person’s walking behavior very early on in the disease. This is significant because up until now doctors have only been able to use cognitive and neurological examinations to determine if a patient was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers looked at several different studies which examined both people with Alzheimer’s disease and healthy people. The studies looked at how participants walked and measured them over a period of 12 months or longer. Those suffering from Alzheimer’s exhibited a change in walking pace, gait, and stride length, with those suffering the most significant cognitive decline also suffering the largest change in walking style.
The brain is responsible for coordinating body movements, and in order to walk the human brain must be able to communicate effectively between different areas. Once Alzheimer’s disease begins reducing the ability of different brain areas to communicate effectively, the coordination required for walking is impacted. Though the researchers do not believe that a change in walking style is enough to lead to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, they do believe it can serve as a physical warning sign which would then lead to further testing.