Alzheimer’s and the Ability to Walk

Dementia can affect areas of the brain that are responsible for movement and balance. Because of this, many individuals affected by Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia can gradually lose the ability to walk and perform everyday tasks. Knowing what to expect can make an easier transition for you and your loved one in the late stages of dementia.

Understanding Balance and Gait

A crucial and sometimes neglected part of dementia care is the observation of gait. Gait refers to the motion and stride of walking. One of the first signs of loss of mobility, is walking unsteadily and shuffling. Your loved one may seem slow or clumsy, causing more accidents and bumping into things. This “slowing” is typically associated with a syndrome called “parkinsonism.” Other signs of Parkinsonism include the shortening of steps, “stooped” posture, and the narrowing of the space between feet. When a person with Parkinsonism turns, they no longer pivot on their heels, but instead turn in a series of short steps. During the turns, their balance can become unstable; and are likely to fall backwards.

Apraxia is another condition associated with dementia and the ability to walk. An ataxic gait is characterized by imbalance, and abnormal, uncoordinated movements. Typically the individual can stand, but is very unsteady, taking small irregular steps. Very early in the course of apraxic walking in dementia, a cane or a walker can help. It is not uncommon to see a person go from a slow, cautious gait, to a normal walking pattern simply by taking up a cane.

How you can help:

  • It is important to note that people with dementia can have problems with walking that are not associated with Dementia. Exhaustion and pain can limit how far a person can walk. Sometimes that pain can reflect an unattended problem in foot care or muscle fatigue.
  • The person you care for may also require a mobility aid, such as a walking cane or a wheelchair in order to feel secure. Sometimes just being physically present can provide your loved one with the confidence and security to walk.
  • Consider a physiotherapist: They can help with anything from exercises to strengthen muscles to walking aids.

Care for a person with dementia who is immobile enough can become difficult. Many other problems can develop, such as constipation, blood clots and pressure sores. If you or a loved one needs home care assistance or relief, our team can help: Contact us today.


Understanding Dementia: Balance and Gait Examination – DementiaGuide, 2001. Web. 23 June 2016.

4 thoughts on “Alzheimer’s and the Ability to Walk

    1. Hi Cassandra,

      Is your loved one using a roller walker, cane, or other device for mobility assistance? Sometimes there can be improvements through physical therapy. If changes are a result of a dementia, this is unfortunately part of the disease process.

  1. My father is 83 and one year ago was diagnosed with dementia. His gait is slowly becoming awkward and slightly unbalanced. He refuses to use a can. He feels that he will become too dependant on it. Will a cane help or hinder him? Can you explain why please.

    1. Hi Cynthia, unfortunately this is attributed to the progression of the disease. A good understanding of the disease progression is important for us to know. It allows us to change our approaches to connect before providing care. Would you like to learn more about our dementia care services? We are available at anytime to assist, 610-323-9800.

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