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Gait and step training to reduce falls in Parkinson's disease


Introduction: Frequent falls and risk of injury are evident in individuals with Parkinson's disease (PD) as the disease progresses. There have been no reports of any interventions that reduce the incidence of falls in idiopathic PD.

Purpose: Assess the benefit of gait and step perturbation training in individuals with PD.

Design: Randomized, controlled trial.

Setting: Outpatient research, education and clinical center in a tertiary care Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Outcome measures: Gait parameters, 5-step test, report of falls.

Subjects: Eighteen men with idiopathic PD in stage 2 or 3 of the Hoehn and Yahr staging.

Methods: Subjects were randomly assigned to a trained or control group. They were asked about any falls 2 weeks prior to and after an 8 week period. Gait speed, cadence, and step length were tested on an instrumented walkway. Subjects were timed while stepping onto and back down from an 8.8 cm step for 5 consecutive steps. Gait training consisted of walking on a treadmill at a speed greater than over ground walking speed while walking in 4 directions and while supported in a harness for safety. Step training consisted of suddenly turning the treadmill on and off while the subject stood in the safety harness facing either forwards, backwards, or sideways. Training occurred 1 hour per day, three times per week for 8 weeks. A two-factor (time and group) analysis of variance with repeated measures was used to compare the groups.

Results: Substantial reduction occurred in falls in the trained group, but not in the control group. Gait speed increased in the trained group from 1.28±0.33 meters/sec to 1.45±0.37 meters/sec, but not in the control group (from 1.26 to 1.27 m/s). The cadence increased for both groups: from 112.8 to 120.3 steps/min for the trained group and 117.7 to 124.3 steps/min for the control group. Stride lengths increased for the trained group, but not the control group. The 5-step test speed increased in the trained group from 0.40±0.08 steps/sec to 0.51±0.12 steps/sec, and in the control group (0.36±0.11 steps/sec to 0.42±0.11 steps/sec).

Conclusion: Gait and step perturbation training resulted in a reduction in falls and improvements in gait and dynamic balance. This is a promising approach to reduce falls for patients with PD.