Unsteady gait common among the elderly but can be treated

More than one in three elderly people in Umeå have problems with walking. Almost 20 percent of them have a special type of unsteady gait caused by changes in the brain. Many have such severe problems that it affects the quality of life. More than half have large brain ventricles, a sign of too much spinal fluid in the head – a treatable condition. This is shown in a new thesis at Umeå University.

– Depression, low quality of life and reduced confidence in one’s own balance are common among people with certain types of walking problems. Therefore, it is important to investigate whether there is an underlying cause that can be treated, says Jenny Larsson, PhD student at Umeå University.

In her thesis at the Department of Clinical Science at Umeå University, Jenny Larsson shows that approximately half of the elderly with impaired walking ability have a neurological cause for the problem. Of them, every other one is described as having a generally unsteady gait, a condition that over time can develop into a higher-level gait disorder, HLGD. Several different diseases can be behind HLGD.

A known treatable example, where HLGD is an important symptom, is idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus, INPH. It is related to an increased amount of spinal fluid in the head, which causes the brain’s ventricles, fluid-filled cavities, to become enlarged. In the thesis, Jenny Larsson and the research group she is part of explore the connection between HLGD and large brain ventricles. It was also investigated how HLGD affects the individual by studying quality of life, depressive symptoms, and confidence in one’s own balance and gait in individuals with HLGD.

The results showed that more than a third, 38 percent, of the elderly population in Umeå had walking problems. 5.8 percent had HLGD, and 3.7 percent had HLGD combined with large brain ventricles. Large cerebral ventricles were more common in individuals with HLGD than among those without gait disturbances. Depressive symptoms, low quality of life and reduced confidence in one’s own balance and gait were more common in individuals with HLGD.

Article publised: 2022-12-12 Umeå University

Umeå University-published article


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