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Health Information Gait Problems Could Be a Sign of
Increased Risk for Alzheimer's

A new study from Rush University Medical Center helps explain why gait problems are often progressive in old age and related to risk of dementia.

The study, published in a recent issue of the Annals of Neurology, found that neurofibrillary tangles in the substantia nigra are associated with gait impairment in older persons with and without dementia. Neurofibrillary tangles are a classic brain abnormality seen in Alzheimer's disease. The substantia nigra is part of the brain that is subject to cell loss in Parkinsons disease. The more tangle pathology in the substantia nigra, the more impaired the person's gait was before death.

"Older persons without Parkinsons disease often exhibit parkinsonian signs, such as difficulty with walking and balance (gait impairment), slowness in movements, rigidity and tremor," says study author Julie Schneider, MD, MS, of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center. "The mild parkinsonian signs associated with aging have been historically viewed simply as an expected sign of aging rather than a disease process. Previous studies have shown that at least one of these signs, gait impairment, has harmful effects in older persons, and our current study suggests why this may be the case."

The study included 86 autopsied subjects from the Religious Orders Study, a longitudinal clinical-pathological study of aging and dementia. Participants of the Religious Orders Study are older Catholic clergy who enroll without known dementia who agree to annual follow-up and brain donation at death.

"This study shows that the spectrum of Alzheimer's disease is broader than we thought and may be more common than previously recognized. Alzheimer's disease doesn't just cause memory and cognitive problems, it is also causing motor problems in aging," says Schneider.

"Gait problems in older people should not simply be passed over as a sign of aging," Schneider says. "Physicians should be aware that this could be a possible early sign of Alzheimer's disease."

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For more information about getting your balance and gait evaluated, visit the Balance Assessment and Treatment Program home page.
  • For information on medical services for older adults at Rush visit the Geriatric Services home page. Or call (800) 757-0202.
  • For information on Alzheimer's disease services at Rush visit the Patient Care Services page for the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center.
  • For information on a unique membership program for older adults, their loved ones and caregivers visit the Rush Generations page. Or call (800) 757-0202.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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