Scientists can tell what type of dementia a patient has by the way they walk, a major study has revealed.
Researchers found that people with Lewy body dementia walk differently to those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Around 100,000 people in the UK have the condition which is caused by clumps of protein, called Lewy bodies, forming inside brain cells.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and affects around 500,000 people.
Researchers found that people with Lewy body dementia walk differently to those with Alzheimer’s disease
The research by Newcastle University shows that people with Lewy body dementia change their walking steps more – varying step time and length – and are asymmetric when they move, in comparison to those with Alzheimer’s disease. This puts them at an increased risk of falls.
The research means that for the first time doctors can diagnose people with dementia subtypes just by analysing how they walk, negating the need for a brain scan in some.
Researchers analysed the walk of 110 people, including 29 older adults without dementia symptoms, 36 with Alzheimer’s disease and 45 with Lewy body dementia.
They found that people with Lewy body dementia had a unique walking pattern and that analysing people’s walking gait could accurately identify 60 per cent of dementia subtypes.
Dr Ríona McArdle, who led the research, funded by the Alzheimer’s Society, 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.’
Grandfather John Tinkler, who has lived with Lewy body dementia for the past three years, was one of those to take part in the study.
The 70-year-old from County Durham, was diagnosed after starting to experience difficulties walking when he began to shuffle his feet and would regularly trip over.
His wife Jenny said: ‘Since John’s diagnosis things have been difficult and, over the years, he has deteriorated to the point where he fatigues easily, which affects his mobility, balance and coordination, and he is now struggling to get out of an armchair. In addition to this, he has joint pain and muscle cramps.
‘The findings of the study are exciting because it can help lead to a definitive diagnosis of the subtype of dementia, which will allow patients to be on the right management programme as early as possible.
‘It would be fantastic if a screening tool like this was available within the NHS for dementia patients.’
Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘In this well conducted study we can see for the first time that the way we walk may provide clues which could help us distinguish between Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
‘This research is pioneering for dementia. It shows promise in helping to establish a novel approach to accurately diagnose different types of dementia.
‘We know that research will beat dementia, and provide invaluable support for the 850,000 people living with the condition in the UK today. It’s now vital that we continue to support promising research of this kind.
‘We look forward to seeing larger, longer studies to validate this approach and shed light on the relationship between a person’s gait and dementia diagnosis.’
Dementia describes different brain disorders that triggers loss of brain function and these conditions are usually progressive and eventually severe.
More than 850,000 people in the UK currently have dementia, a figure that will rise to more than one million by 2025.
The research was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.
WHAT IS DEMENTIA? THE KILLER DISEASE THAT ROBS SUFFERERS OF THEIR MEMORIES
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders
A GLOBAL CONCERN
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain.
There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s.
It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.
Source: Alzheimer’s Society