By Hannah Furness
7:00AM BST 22 Oct 2014
Changes in the way people walk could be an early sign of cognitive decline in Parkinson's disease, according to a new study.
Researchers claim to have discovered a definitive link between a change in someone's gait and a decline in their cognitive function.
More than 120 people with Parkinson's took part in the study, where they had to walk for two minutes in the lab and their stride pattern was then analysed.
Changes in gait, such as taking slower, shorter steps, irregular walking patterns or a swaying motion, were found to be related to cognitive decline.
It is hoped the findings could help doctors spot the risk of dementia and future cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s patients, providing an earlier indicator than current tests on the brain.
Although the disease cannot be cured, early diagnosis can assist with the management of symptoms.
Some degree of cognitive impairment affects most people with Parkinson’s disease. The same brain changes that lead to motor symptoms can also result in slowness in memory and thinking. Research has also found that many people who have Parkinson's go on to develop a mild form of dementia.
Lynn Rochester, professor of human movement science at Newcastle University and lead author of the paper, said: “The relationship between gait and cognition has never been established this early on and in such a large group of Parkinson's before.
”In the future walking patterns may be a useful early warning system to help identify dementia risk in Parkinson's.
“Subtle changes in someone's walking pattern, for example slowing down of steps, and increased sway from side to side are related to cognitive function even before changes are seen in cognitive tests.
”Ongoing work will confirm if it is possible to predict future cognitive decline and dementia risk. However this early work shows great promise.
“If we can use this and test people who may at risk, then we could pick up the early signs and begin treatment and advice.”
Prof Rochester said it had been known for several years that there was a link between gait disturbance and dementia in older adults, but until now the relationship had not been clear in Parkinson's.
— Last Edited by Greentea at 2014-10-22 09:01:29 —