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Changes in gait could be early warning for Parkinson's

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Changes in the way people walk could be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease, according to a new study.

The researchers claim to have discovered a definitive link between a change in someone’s gait and a decline in their cognitive function.

“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”

Lynn Rochester

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.

The findings have been published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

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,” she said.

“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,” she added.

University of Newcastle

Lynn Rochester

“Ongoing work will confirm if it is possible to predict future cognitive decline and dementia risk. However this early work shows great promise,” said Professor Rochester. “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.”

Ms 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.

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