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During this video, we will watch some examples of walking to highlight what professionals look out for when assessing someone’s gait. One of the simplest things we can observe is gait speed. We know that people who walk more slowly during a timed walking test are at an increased risk of falls. Here we can compare the walking speed of two people. Another simple feature to watch is how far someone veers away from a straight line. This can be done simply by watching someone walk from behind. If someone veers to the side, it can indicate a balance or gait abnormality.
Next, a professional may look at the steps taken, observing the stride length, the distance between the left and right foot to see if the gait is narrow or wide.
But also the height of the step– how far the foot comes up from the ground.
Other features which the clinician will observe are the joints, to look for signs of muscle weakness and joint pain; the arms, to look at arm swing; and how someone stops and starts their gait. Sometimes a gait abnormality can be very subtle. It may only become apparent if someone’s attention is focused on something else. We can test this by watching someone’s gait while giving them a task to perform, such as reciting the months of the year backwards while walking. This can be very important, as often falls can occur when we are distracted by something else.
We learnt in Week 1 about how our skeletons and senses help to maintain our balance. Balance is crucial when walking upright on two legs and helps us to keep a steady gait. Gait is the way in which we mobilise on our feet. Different gait patterns include walking, jogging, running or using a walking stick or frame. There are many more different types of gait, such as those that arise because of arthritis or joint replacements as well as more obscure ones such as skipping or marching.
Having an abnormal balance or gait is a risk factor for falling. Indeed, the NICE guidelines for falls in older people suggest that anyone who has difficulty with walking or balance should undergo a professional falls assessment.
During this video we will watch some of the key features of gait which a professional would observe when assessing an individual’s falls risk.
While watching the video, think about your own gait.
  • Do you walk differently to how you walked several years ago?
  • Do you recognise any gait problems from observing other people you have seen?
  • Have you ever lost your balance when distracted by something else?
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