The effect of walking path configuration on gait in adults with Alzheimer's dementia

Susan W Hunter, Alison Divine
Gait & Posture 2018, 64: 226-229

BACKGROUND: Walking is a cognition intensive activity and impaired walking is associated with an increased fall risk in people with Alzheimer's dementia (AD). Walking in a curved path configuration increases complexity of the task, reflects real-life environments and situations when falls occur. The effect of walking path task complexity has not been evaluated in people with AD.

RESEARCH QUESTION: The purpose was 1) to assess the utility of a curved path walking task to detect differences in gait performance between people with AD and healthy controls and 2) to assess the relationship of cognitive function to gait performance on straight path and curved path walking.

METHODS: Participants with AD (n = 14, mean age ± SD = 73.08 ± 9.22) and age and sex matched controls (n = 14, mean age = 72.86 ± 9.53) were recruited. Time to complete a 6-meter straight path and a curved path (Figure of 8 Test) walking task was recorded. Steps taken, accuracy and qualitative measures of smoothness were rated for curved-path walking. Measures of global cognition (MMSE, MoCA) and executive function (Trail making A and B, Digit Span forwards and backwards) were assessed.

RESULTS: Gait was significantly slower in people with AD for both the straight-path (AD = 6.05 ± 1.26 s, Control = 5.09 ± 0.76 s, p = 0.02) and curved-path walking (AD = 11.25 ± 4.87 s, Control = 8.28 ± 2.44 s, p =  0.05). In addition, smoothness scores were significantly lower for people with AD (AD = 1.93±1.26; Control = 3.00±0.00, p = 0.004).

SIGNIFICANCE: Walking in a curved path resulted in a significant deterioration in gait quality in the people with AD. Executive function was related only to curved path walking, in which lower executive function scores were associated with longer time to walk.

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