Gait analysis is a critical tool for healthcare providers, especially in senior living facilities, as an early indicator of serious health conditions.
As people age, their mobility and balance can deteriorate, leading to falls and other issues. For healthcare providers, particularly physical therapists (PTs) and other professionals in senior living facilities, it is crucial to regularly run gait analysis on their patients to identify any issues before they become more serious.
What is gait analysis?
Gait analysis is a process that involves the evaluation of a person's walking pattern. It is a comprehensive assessment of a patient's gait, balance, and mobility. During gait analysis, healthcare providers observe a patient's walking pattern, looking for any abnormalities or issues that could be impacting their mobility or balance.
In the past, the majority of gait analysis had to be performed as a one-on-one interaction between a patient and a healthcare provider. A patient would walk naturally in front of the healthcare provider and certain measurements were taken visually or by recording some video to be reviewed later. In some cases specialized equipment, such as force plates or motion capture systems, could be used to get a more detailed analysis of a patient's gait.
The future of gait analysis
Gait analysis is an area of healthcare that has seen significant advancements in recent years. One of the most promising areas of development is the use of computer vision, machine learning, and AI to analyze a patient's gait.
By using technologies like Exer Gait, healthcare providers can get a more detailed and accurate analysis of a patient's gait, allowing them to identify issues that may have been missed in the past. Computer vision can be used to track a patient's movements in real-time, while machine learning algorithms can be used to analyze this data and identify any abnormalities or issues.
A major benefit of these new tools is that they are objective and do not suffer from the inaccuracies that human-powered gait analysis does. In addition, they produce results more than 10 times faster than the old methods, allowing for gait analysis to be performed on large groups of patients sequentially.
Overall, the use of these technologies has the potential to revolutionize gait analysis and improve outcomes for patients in senior living facilities.
The benefits of gait analysis
Gait analysis is an important tool for healthcare providers to identify any issues with a patient's mobility or balance and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Here are some reasons why regular gait analysis is so important:
- Preventing falls: Gait analysis is a crucial tool for identifying balance and mobility issues in seniors, which can increase the risk of falls. By detecting these issues early, healthcare providers can preemptively identify patients that would benefit from extra attention focused on improving their balance and mobility. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among adults age 65 and older, and the age-adjusted fall death rate is increasing. The age-adjusted fall death rate increased by 41% from 55.3 per 100,000 older adults in 2012 to 78.0 per 100,000 older adults in 2021. One out of every four seniors falls each year, leading to severe injuries such as hip fractures and head traumas (Bergen et al., 2016). Regular gait analysis can help PTs identify early signs of gait abnormalities, muscle weakness, or balance issues that may contribute to this increasing risk of falls. Early intervention with targeted therapies to improve gait and reduce fall risk can drastically improve patient outcomes.
- Early identification of neurodegenerative disorders: Gait disturbances can be an early symptom of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and multiple sclerosis (Verghese et al., 2012). Regular gait analysis can help detect subtle changes in gait patterns, enabling early diagnosis and intervention, which can improve the prognosis and quality of life for affected individuals.
- Osteoarthritis and joint health: Gait analysis can detect changes in walking patterns that may indicate the presence or progression of osteoarthritis, a common joint disorder among older adults (Felson et al., 2000). Early identification and treatment of osteoarthritis can help slow down the degenerative process, reduce pain, and improve function.
- Improved cardiovascular health: Gait speed is a strong predictor of cardiovascular health and mortality risk in older adults (Studenski et al., 2011). Monitoring gait speed can help PTs identify seniors at risk for cardiovascular events and implement targeted interventions to improve overall health and well-being. By comparing gait analysis results from different points in time, healthcare providers can get a much more accurate picture of progress or deterioration of gait speed, and catch issues before they begin to affect things like cardiovascular health.
Gait analysis and patient mobility
Gait analysis can also identify any issues with mobility that could be impacting a patient's ability to move around. This is particularly important for seniors, who may have difficulty with mobility due to age-related conditions like arthritis or muscle weakness.
By identifying these issues early, healthcare providers can work with their patients to improve their mobility, helping them maintain their independence and quality of life. In addition to identifying specific mobility issues, gait analysis can also help healthcare providers assess a patient's overall level of physical activity. By analyzing a patient's gait speed and other metrics, healthcare providers can get a better understanding of how active their patients are and identify any areas where they may need to increase their activity levels.
Using gait analysis to customize treatment plans
Gait analysis has a strong role to play in modern physical therapy. Regular gait analysis can help healthcare providers customize treatment plans for their patients based on their specific needs. For example, if a patient is experiencing mobility issues due to a specific condition, healthcare providers can tailor their treatment plan to address that condition and improve the patient's mobility.
Additionally, regular gait analysis can help healthcare providers track their patients' progress over time. By comparing gait analysis results from different points in time, healthcare providers can see how their patients are improving and adjust their treatment plans as needed. This allows for a more targeted and effective approach to treatment, which can lead to better outcomes for patients in senior living facilities.
Other assessments to compliment gait analysis
Regular gait analysis is just one of many assessments that healthcare providers can use to evaluate the health of their patients. Other assessments that complement gait analysis include:
- Range of motion tests: These tests evaluate a patient's ability to move their joints through a full range of motion. They can help healthcare providers identify any limitations or restrictions in a patient's mobility that may be contributing to gait abnormalities. Exer Health can be used alongside Exer Gait to perform these assessments both in the clinic as well as when patients are at home or in their rooms.
- Strength tests: These tests evaluate a patient's muscle strength, which can impact their ability to walk and maintain balance. By identifying areas of weakness, healthcare providers can develop targeted interventions to improve strength and mobility.
- Balance tests: These tests evaluate a patient's ability to maintain balance in different positions and situations. They can help healthcare providers identify any issues with balance that may be contributing to gait abnormalities or falls. Exer Health will be releasing a balance test soon.
By using a combination of these assessments, healthcare providers can get a more comprehensive picture of their patients' health and develop more effective treatment plans.
Frequent, accurate gait analysis will improve patient outcomes
In conclusion, regular gait analysis is an essential tool for healthcare providers, particularly PTs and other professionals in senior living facilities. By identifying any issues with balance, mobility, or underlying conditions, healthcare providers can customize treatment plans and help their patients maintain their independence and quality of life.
Bergen, G., Stevens, M. R., & Burns, E. R. (2016). Falls and Fall Injuries Among Adults Aged ≥65 Years — United States, 2014. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 65(37), 993–998.
Verghese, J., LeValley, A., Hall, C. B., Katz, M. J., Ambrose, A. F., & Lipton, R. B. (2006). Epidemiology of gait disorders in community-residing older adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 54(2), 255–261.
Felson, D. T., Lawrence, R. C., Dieppe, P. A., Hirsch, R., Helmick, C. G., & Jordan, J. M. (2000). Osteoarthritis: new insights. Part 1: the disease and its risk factors. Annals of internal medicine, 133(8), 635-646.
Studenski, S., Perera, S., Patel, K., Rosano, C., Faulkner, K., Inzitari, M., Brach, J., Chandler, J., Cawthon, P., Connor, E. B., Nevitt, M., Visser, M., Kritchevsky, S., Badinelli, S., Harris, T., Newman, A. B., Cauley, J., Ferrucci, L., & Guralnik, J. (2011). Gait Speed and Survival in Older Adults. JAMA, 305(1), 50–58.