Alzheimer’s: Gait Mat?


SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Nearly six million people suffer from Alzheimer’s, and the number of related deaths is up 145 percent. Early diagnosis is critical for intervention, so Texas researchers are in clinical trials using a system that measures…and predicts…those at increased risk.

Mini Jacob, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Glenn Biggs Institute, UT Health San Antonio, told Ivanhoe, “What we are trying to understand is, by examining gait, will we be able to capture very, very early risk.”

Researchers use this gait mat to measure distance and variability between steps, as well as walking speed. Embedded sensors transmit data to a nearby computer, creating a unique walking signature for each participant. Patients follow a direction that stimulates the cognitive part of the brain.

This dual tasking: walking and thinking, uses the same regions of the brain.  So, researchers say slowing down or stumbling on the mat can indicate cognitive decline.

“If I think I slowed down walking or something, or almost have to stop, and then, if I concentrate on my walking, I cannot think. Many times, I’m out there in my shop and I come in the house for something, and when I get in here, I say, what did I come in here for,” James Cogan said.

Because forgetfulness like that is common in older people, researchers need more substantive predictors of Alzheimer’s. Like this pairing of gait and cognition.

“We hope to identify the pathway – how is gait related to changes in the brain. And, hopefully, we’ll also come up with some interventions – preventive interventions,” Dr. Jacob said.

The University of Texas Health San Antonio hopes to continue their trials through a multi-site study called MarkVCID that will validate markers of vascular disease in the brain that contribute to dementia.

Contributors to this news report include: Donna Parker, Producer; Bruce Maniscalco, Videographer; Matt Goldschmidt, Editor.

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BACKGROUND: Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with thinking, memory, and behavior. Symptoms normally develop slowly and worsen over time, eventually becoming severe enough to interfere with day-to-day life. The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information. Our brains change as we age and while most of us eventually notice some slowed thinking and occasional forgetfulness, serious memory loss and confusion may be a sign that brain cells are failing. People with memory loss may find it hard to recognize they have a problem; signs of dementia may be more obvious to friends and family. Anyone experiencing dementia-like symptoms should see their doctor as soon as possible. Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association to help with evaluating memory problems if needed.


DIAGNOSING: To diagnose Alzheimer’s dementia, a doctor will evaluate their patient’s signs and symptoms and conduct several tests. Early signs and symptoms may include difficulty concentrating, confusion with location or passage of time, language problems, poor judgment decisions, and changes in mood or personality amongst other things. During an evaluation, a doctor may order additional laboratory tests, brain-imaging tests, or send you for memory testing. These can provide useful information for diagnosis, as well as rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Mental status testing may test cognitive and memory skills, while neuropsychological tests will evaluate brain conditions and mental health. Brain-imaging technologies most often used include MRI, CT, or PET scans. PET scans have recently been developed that detect clusters of the amyloid proteins or plaques that are typically associated with Alzheimer’s.


NEW RESEARCH: Researchers are now using a mat with pressure sensors underneath that is connected to a computer; to capture, measure, and evaluate all different aspects and variables of a persons gait. For instance, the speed at which a person walks, the number of steps they take per minute, the step width and length are some of these variables. This technology is extremely important for possibly identifying someone potentially at risk for developing Alzheimer’s, since one of characteristics that changes with early Alzheimer’s is a speed at which a person walks. At the moment scientists cannot say 100% that a person’s gait speed means they’re at significant risk for dementia, but research is allowing them to try and see if there is a combination of variables or pattern that would indicate greater risk.

(Source: Mini Elizabeth Jacob, MD, PhD)


Mini Jacob

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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Mini Elizabeth Jacob, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor

Read the entire Q&A