Studying your gait may be a clue for your Alzheimer's risk

SAN ANTONIO -- (02/19/2020) -- 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.