Neurological changes frequently occur at the onset of cognitive decline. However, physical changes may also be telling. Researchers have built a concise understanding of the complex relationship between physical performance and the onset of dementia. Their findings suggest changes in a person’s balance or the way they walk could reveal a lot about their cognitive status.
The (UK) Express’ recent article entitled “Dementia signs: Two changes in a person’s walk that can precede diagnosis by ‘six years’” says these changes are a sign that cells in the brain and neural communication are slowly deteriorating. This deterioration will progress until late-stage dementia, eventually affecting a patient’s ability to walk freely or process information about their physical environment.
Having difficulty seeing and processing information about the physical environment is likely to contribute to balance issues. Although it’s usually a sign of late-stage dementia, loss of balance can be attributed to early-stage vascular dementia in some cases.
Dementia Care Central explains: “In early stages, or even before other dementia symptoms develop, losing balance while standing or walking can indicate an increased potential to develop Alzheimer’s.
“It may also be a good sign that your loved one is suffering a kind of dementia other than Alzheimer’s.”
“Vascular dementia, for instance, is different from Alzheimer’s disease because the illness is caused by a lack of blood flow carrying oxygen to the cerebellum,” adds Dementia Care Central.
“Some people with vascular dementia will actually experience feelings of vertigo before they have trouble with thinking and memory.”
When loss of balance is characteristic of late-stage dementia, patients will sometimes adjust by changing their gait, or how they walk. This can involve shuffling, instead of lifting each foot to make a step, making falls more likely.
Research published in the Journal of The American Geriatrics Society in 2016, even suggested that signs of dizziness and loss of balance earlier in life could mean a person is more likely to get Alzheimer’s as they get older. This supports earlier findings published in the journal Neurology, which suggest that being prone to falls could cause a build-up of amyloid in the brain and tau in the spinal fluid. These proteins build up in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia and damage the parts of the brain associated with learning and memory.
Reference: The Express (Oct. 4, 2022) “Dementia signs: Two changes in a person’s walk that can precede diagnosis by ‘six years’”