Researchers Find a Correlation Between Gait and Balance Deficits in Adult Friedreich’s Ataxia Patients

Patrícia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patrícia Silva, PhD |

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GAITRite walkway system in FA

shutterstock_215889268Researchers at the University of South Florida, Morsani College of Medicine published in the journal Gait & Posture their findings on gait and balance parameters in a group of adult Friedreich’s ataxia patients and the correlation between the two variables. The study is entitled “Gait and balance in adults with Friedreich’s ataxia.

Friedreich’s ataxia is a rare inherited neurodegenerative disease characterized by progressive damage of the nervous system with degeneration of the spinal cord and peripheral nerves that leads to muscle weakness, sensory loss, balance deficits and lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements. As this disabling disease progresses, balance and gait deficits become worse.

The aim of the study was to assess balance and gait parameters in an adult population of Friedreich’s ataxia patients and to determine whether there is a possible correlation between the two. To this end, eight patients with genetically confirmed Friedreich’s ataxia (mean age of 29.4 years) and eight healthy controls (mean age of 29.6 years) were enrolled in the study. The GAITRite Walkway System was used to determine the spatiotemporal gait parameters of the individuals, and the Biodex Balance System SD and the Berg Balance Scale (BBS) were both employed to evaluate balance.

Researchers found that Friedreich’s ataxia patients had a gait velocity approximately 50% slower in comparison with healthy controls in either comfortable or fast walking tests. The step and stride lengths was also found to be shorter by 32% in Friedreich’s ataxia patients, and the cadence was reduced by 30% in comfortable walking and by 35% in fast walking. In terms of balance, subjects with Friedreich’s ataxia needed more time (around 72% longer) to complete the limits of stability (LOS) balance test on the BBS and exhibited an overall directional control score that corresponded to 50% of the one of healthy controls. It is thought that Friedreich’s ataxia patients limit their step lengths and reduce their walking speed as a strategy to avoid losing balance and possible falls.

Regarding correlations between the variables, researchers found that the age at Friedreich’s ataxia symptoms onset negatively correlated with stride length variability during fast walking, suggesting that individuals of younger age at disease onset may have greater gait variability by young adulthood. The LOS and BBS balance scores also correlated with stride length variability during both comfortable and fast walking, suggesting that balance deficits may contribute to gait impairment in Friedreich’s ataxia patients.