7 Common Gait Dysfunctions in Older Adults

A man practices a gait exercise while using an overhead harness

Gait refers to a person’s manner of walking or moving on foot. Walking involves balance and coordination of muscles so that the body moves forward in a rhythm, called the stride. Many different things can cause an abnormal gait. Some common causes are:

  • A degenerative disease (such as arthritis)
  • An inner ear disorder
  • Foot conditions
  • Stroke
  • A neurologic condition

The chance of having a gait disorder increases with age. Older individuals tend to experience more conditions that cause an abnormal gait and typically have weaker muscles, delayed reactions, and less muscle coordination. Some common gait dysfunctions in older adults include:

Antalgic Gait

An individual with antalgic gait has a limited range of motion, and may limp or take slow and short steps. They are also unable to bear full weight on one or both legs.

  • Associated signs: The individuals’ pain may worsen with increased movement and weight bearing
  • Causes: Antalgic gait can be caused by degenerative joint disease (also referred to as osteoarthritis), or by trauma.

 

Ataxia (Cerebellar)

If affected, one walks with a wide base with erratic and unpredictable foot placement.

  • Associated signs: Some associated signs include postural instability, impaired check, intention tremor, rebound, etc.
  • Causes: Cerebellar degeneration, drug or alcohol intoxication, multiple sclerosis, stroke, or thiamine and vitamin B deficiency

 

Cautious Gait

Individuals with a cautious gait may walk with their arms and legs abducted, or walk slowly and carefully (like they are walking on ice).

  • Associated Signs: This gait dysfunction is associated with anxiety, or having a fear of falling.
  • Causes: Suffering from a previous fall may result in post-fall syndrome. An individual with this gait dysfunction may also suffer from visual impairments.

Dystonic Gait

An abnormal posture of the foot or leg. The individual’s foot may drag while walking, or there may be a hyperflexion of the individual’s hips.

  • Associated signs: The individual’s gait may become worse with the action of walking; their gait may improve when walking backward

Parkinsonian Gait

Resulting from Parkinson disease. The individual may be short-stepped, or shuffle while walking.

  • Associated Signs: The individual may have muscular rigidity, or their posture may appear unstable. They also may have a reduced arm swing while walking.
  • Causes: Parkinson’s disease. Atypical or secondary forms of parkinsonism.

 

Steppage Gait

Resulting from footdrop or excessive flexion of hips and knees while walking. The individual may have short strides or they may trip while walking.

  • Associated Signs: An individual may experience a weakening of leg muscles, sensory loss, and weakness in their footdrop.
  • Causes: Motor neuropathy (a disease that affects your body’s motor nerves).

Waddling Gait

Individuals tend to walk on their toes and sway side to side while in motion.

  • Associated Signs: The individual may have proximal muscle weakness of the lower extremities. They may need to use their arms to get up from a sitting position.
  • Causes: Muscular dystrophy (muscle weakness decreases mobility, making everyday tasks difficult).

The Solo-Step safety overhead system is designed to help therapists treat their patients with gait dysfunctions like those listed above. Eliminate the fear of falling, increase patient confidence, and treat gait disorders with the Solo-Step safety overhead system.

A man walks through obstacles while his physical therapist supervises