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Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) affects approximately 20% of the world’s population and is a condition that can lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. While there is currently no cure for MCI, early diagnosis and intervention can help slow down its progression. Researchers are always looking for new ways to diagnose MCI, and a recent study has shown that gait analysis could be a promising method for detecting early cognitive decline. By analyzing how a person walks, researchers were able to identify differences between older adults with MCI and healthy older adults, suggesting that changes in walking patterns could be an early indicator of cognitive decline.

In the study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports, researchers from Florida Atlantic University used gait analysis to assess 55 older adults, 25 with MCI and 30 without. The senior author of the study, Dr. Behnaz Ghoraani, highlighted the importance of gait analysis as a noninvasive way to monitor an individual’s motor abilities, which can be affected early in the course of cognitive impairment. By integrating gait analysis with traditional cognitive assessments, clinicians can gain a more comprehensive understanding of a person’s cognitive and physical health, leading to earlier detection of cognitive decline, monitoring of progression, and assessment of interventions.

The study involved participants performing two walking tests – one of straight walking and the other of walking on a curved path. The researchers used a depth camera to track 25 joints of body movement during these tests, allowing them to analyze 50 gait markers. They found that individuals with MCI showed distinctive changes in their walking patterns compared to healthy controls, particularly during curved walking. These changes included a shorter step length, reduced walking speed, increased time with both feet on the ground, and increased variability in gait parameters, all indicating challenges in balance and coordination associated with cognitive decline.

Dr. Ghoraani emphasized the importance of early detection of cognitive decline, as it provides a critical window for timely intervention and management. Existing diagnostic methods for cognitive decline, such as mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, can be invasive, costly, and may not adequately detect early stages of the condition. Early detection opens the door to interventions that can delay or mitigate the progression of cognitive disorders, improve the quality of life for those affected, and impact emotional well-being. By developing new ways to detect cognitive decline, such as gait analysis, researchers aim to improve diagnosis, intervention, and care planning for individuals at risk of developing dementia.

After reviewing the study, neurologist Dr. Clifford Segil noted the unique approach of using gait analysis as a diagnostic tool for memory loss disorders like MCI, rather than movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease. Brain health coach Ryan Glatt found the study to be a valuable progression in functional assessments that consider both physical mobility and cognitive abilities. Neuropsychologist Dr. Karen D. Sullivan emphasized the importance of a holistic approach to diagnosing dementia, incorporating physical, sensory, mood, and behavior changes in addition to cognitive evaluation. The development of new diagnostic tools like gait analysis could be a valuable addition to multidisciplinary assessment teams for diagnosing and managing dementia.

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