Disorders of gait and mobility are common neurologic abnormalities of aging and can have disastrous consequences. Etiology is multifactorial, and normal age-related changes are difficult to distinguish from those resulting from the disease.
Gait evaluation with special techniques provides scientific understanding of physiologic mechanisms, but experienced clinicians can make diagnoses based on general medical and neurologic history and physical examination. Details to observe include posture, length of stride, width of base, speed and fluidity of motion, arm swing, bilateral symmetry of motor activity, and neurologic signs. Gait disorders are classified into lowest-level, middle-level, and highest-level disorders. In lowest-level gait disorders, only one major afferent system (visual, proprioceptive, or vestibular) is affected and the disturbance is usually self-limited or compensated. Middle-level disorders include myelopathy from cervical spondylosis; spastic hemiparetic gait from unilateral impairment of the corticospinal tract; gaits associated with movement disorders; and dystonic, choreic, hemiballistic, and cerebellar ataxic gaits. Highest-level gait disorders include cautious gait, subcortical dysequilibrium, frontal dysequilibrium, isolated gait ignition failure, frontal gait, primary progressive freezing gait, and psychogenic gait disorders.
A treatable cause can often be found. Physical therapy with gait evaluation and training is recommended. Medication must be kept to a minimum.