Locomotor disturbance is an early sign of Parkinson’s disease, yet it can be easily overlooked in the elderly population. Due to a progressive loss of neurons that produce dopamine, neurotransmitter imbalances occur in the basal ganglia. Once around 80% of neurons have been lost, the disease becomes more evident and people begin to experience difficulties with motor skills.
Even before the diagnosis is confirmed by a neurologist, most people with the disease find that they are walking more slowly than usual and with short steps. The trunk is held rigidly, the width of the base of support narrows, and there is a high-stepping rate. Difficulty initiating and terminating a step is also experienced. As the disease progresses, there is asymmetry and reduced arm swing.
Gait disorders vary according to the environment in which movement occurs. People with Parkinson’s disease can walk relatively quickly through open spaces or familiar environments. However, the characteristic shuffling gait pattern re-emerges in new environments or congested spaces. Changing the complexity of the task can be challenging when there is insufficient time to plan adaptations to the stepping pattern.. People with Parkinson’s disease can experience difficulties in changing from walking slowly to quickly, making the transition from hard to soft floor surfaces, or veering to avoid an obstacle. Just a change in the color of the tiles on the floor can make it difficult to maintain a consistent gait. This is valuable information in the understanding and treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
PTA & Clinical Manager of the Therapy Department