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Vol. 26, No. 1, 2006
Issue release date: December 2005
Neuroepidemiology 2006;26:52–60

Quantitative Measures of Gait Characteristics Indicate Prevalence of Underlying Subclinical Structural Brain Abnormalities in High-Functioning Older Adults

Rosano C. · Brach J. · Longstreth Jr. W.T. · Newman A.B.
aDivision of Geriatric Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, bDepartment of Physical Therapy, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pa., cDepartments of Neurology and Epidemiology, University of Washington, Seattle, Wash., USA

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Abnormal gait in high-functioning older adults may indicate underlying subtle structural brain abnormalities. We tested the hypothesis that temporal and spatial parameters of gait, including speed, stride length and double support time, are cross-sectionally associated with white matter hyperintensity, subcortical infarcts or brain atrophy on brain MRI. We examined 321 men and women (mean age = 78.3) participating to the Cardiovascular Health Study who were free of dementia or stroke at the time of the gait assessment. Analyses were set with gait as independent variable and brain MRIs as dependent variables. Gait measures were determined from the footfalls recorded on a 4-meter-long instrumented walking surface, the GaitMat II. Brain MRIs were examined for the presence of white matter hyperintensity (WMG, graded from 0 to 9), brain infarcts (predominantly subcortical) and ventricular enlargement (graded from 0 to 9). Slower gait, shorter stride length and longer double support times were associated with greater prevalence of white matter grade ≧3 (p = 0.02), and at least 1 brain infarct (p = 0.04) independent of age. In multivariate logistic regression models adjusted for demographics and clinical cardiovascular diseases, those with gait speed <1.02 m/s were more likely to have WMG ≧3 and at least 1 brain infarct, compared with those with faster gait – odds ratio (OR): 2.85, 95% confidence interval (95% CI): 1.35, 6.02, and OR: 2.09, 95% CI: 1.04, 4.19. Shorter stride length was also associated with greater probability of having at least 1 brain infarct (gait stride <0.88 vs. >1.10 m: OR: 3.20, 95% CI: 1.49, 6.88), while longer double support times were associated with a greater probability of having WMG ≧3 (double support time >0.19 vs. <0.14 s: OR: 2.3, 95% CI: 1.1, 4.7) independent of demographics and clinical cardiovascular diseases. Gait parameters were not significantly associated with ventricular grade. In summary, in this group of high-functioning older adults, poorer gait speed, shorter stride and longer double support time are associated with high white matter disease and subclinical strokes.

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