Everybody walks a little differently, but as people age, their gaits change a bit. If a loved one starts shuffling their feet, slowing down or bumping into things frequently, it could be an early sign of Parkinson’s disease or another dementia like Alzheimer’s.
Forgetting how to walk is a natural part of the progression of Alzheimer’s, but it can also be an early warning sign for other dementia subtypes. Specifically, it can be an early sign of Lewy body dementia and frontotemporal degeneration (FTD). In both of these types of Alzheimer’s, the part of the brain that regulates movement will start to decline. It can lead to a more clumsy and unsteady gait, where the person will begin to take short steps and lose balance when turning. This can also cause them to “freeze” when attempting a turn or walking through a doorway, which increases their risk of falls.
Retraining the body to walk after a brain injury can seem like an insurmountable task. However, if the right methods are used, survivors can improve their gait and return to independence, regardless of how the injury occurred. Passive leg exercises, which involve assisting the legs through targeted movements, combined with mental practice, are a great place to start. These techniques boost brain activation and optimize neuroplasticity, allowing the person to begin moving again more quickly. Then they can move on to active exercises, such as stepping up and down stairs or using a walker.