Brain Health

Difficulty Walking Curved Path May Indicate Cognitive Decline

The National Institute on Aging estimates that roughly 10% to 20% of people over 65 have mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and of those, 10% to 20% will develop dementia over a one-year period. Although there’s no single cause of MCI, aging is the primary risk factor—although genetics and certain conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and depression may increase risk as well.

While no cure for MCI has been discovered, experts have found that early diagnosis and some interventions can help slow the progression. One new potential test for early cognitive decline: gait analysis. In fact, a new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports indicates that difficulty walking a curved path was associated with early cognitive decline.

The Study on Cognitive Decline

A team of researchers from Florida Atlantic University set out to compare the capability of curve and straight walking tests for the detection of MCI among older adults.

Using a camera to record the gait of 55 older adults—30 of whom were healthy and 25 of whom had MCI—during single-task straight and curve walking tests. The examined 50 gait markers and conducted statistical analyses to compare groups and conditions. The results included the following findings:

• Older adults with MCI exhibited more compromised gait performance, particularly during curve walking.

• Curve walking outperformed straight walking in MCI detection, with several gait markers showing significant differences between health controls and MCI patients.

• The markers included average velocity, cadence, temporal markers, spatial markers, and spatiotemporal markers.

The research suggests that curve walking is a more informative and challenging test for MCI detection among older adults. Curve walking tests could facilitate early diagnosis using non-invasive, cost-effective tools (like the camera), complementing cognitive assessments and tracking MCI’s progression to dementia.

Complementary assessments of MCI

“Cognitive assessments focus on evaluating various aspects of cognitive function such as memory, attention, and problem-solving skills, which are crucial for diagnosing conditions like mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease,” says senior author Dr. Behnaz Ghoraani, who serves as an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and co-director of the Center for SMART Health at Florida Atlantic University. “However, they may not capture all the early signs of cognitive decline, and their performance can be influenced by factors like test anxiety or the individual’s condition at the time of assessment. Gait analysis, on the other hand, offers a unique window into the neurological health of an individual by quantifying changes in walking patterns, balance, and coordination. These changes can precede noticeable cognitive symptoms, thereby providing an early indicator of cognitive decline.”

Why would curved walking demand greater cognitive and motor coordination than straight walking?

Because straight walking is a simple, repetitive motion with minimal need for directional changes or complex spatial navigation. And because straight walking is a rhythmic activity that leans on established motor patterns, there’s less of a need for cognitive input once the walking has started. On the other hand, curved walking is more complex because the person has to continuously adjust for balance, direction, and speed.

“Navigating a curved path demands greater cognitive and motor coordination, as it involves changing the orientation of the body and adjusting gait parameters to maintain stability while turning,” explained Dr. Ghoraani. “This requires the integration of visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive information to successfully negotiate the curve, placing a higher demand on cognitive resources and balance control mechanisms.”

MBJ

Wendy Burt-Thomas writes about the brain, mental health and parenting.

Check out the original research:

https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-alzheimers-disease-reports/adr230149

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