Award Date


Degree Type

Professional Paper

Degree Name

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)


Physical Therapy


Background: It was once thought that Alzheimer’s disease (AD) affected mostly cognition with minor motor impairment; however, it is becoming apparent that motor impairment may also be a prominent feature. Determining the extent of motor impairments throughout the continuum of cognitive impairment is critical in developing timely interventions for this population. Purpose/Hypothesis: The aim of this study was to gain a greater understanding of motor impairment in AD by exploring the relationships among gait, balance, and falls. Specifically, we explored the association of fall history to measures of cognition and performance-based balance measures in individuals with AD. We hypothesized that falls would increase as balance impairments became more severe. Additionally, we mapped the trajectory of gait and balance function along the continuum of cognitive impairment in individuals with AD. We hypothesized that balance and gait would be worse for those in the lower quartiles of cognitive function compared to those in the upper quartiles. Lastly, we sought to determine if fall history worsened as cognition declined. We hypothesized that falls history would be worse in lower quartiles of cognitive impairment compared to upper quartiles of cognitive impairment. Subjects: Retrospective data of 419 patients with brain health conditions and an initial evaluation for physical therapy at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health were extracted from electronic records. Of those 419, 155 were diagnosed by a neurologist with AD (age=77.4 ± 9.5; 69 males, 86 females) and were subsequently analyzed for this study. Materials/Methods: Patients were stratified into cognitive quartiles using scores from the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA): 0-9 (very severe cognitive impairment), 10-14 (severe cognitive impairment), 15-20 (Moderate to severe impairment), 21-30 (mild to moderate impairment). These cognitive function quartiles were then compared across the following measures: fall history (falls in last year, falls in the last 30 days, and fall injuries in the last year), 5 times Sit To Stand (5STS), Timed Up and Go (TUG), TUG cognitive (TUGcog), Preferred Gait Speed (PGS), Fast Gait Speed (FGS), 6 Minute Walk Test (6MWT), and Mini Balance Evaluation Systems Test (MBT). Results: For our first aim, there were no statistically significant differences between fallers and non-fallers for cognition, age, and measures of gait and balance (ps≥.068), except non-fallers walked farther on the 6MWT (p=.030). There were no statistically significant differences for recent (last 30 days) fallers and non-fallers across the same measures (ps≥.082). Fallers who had experienced an injury as a result of a fall in the last year performed more poorly on the 6MWT (p=.034) and MBT SOT (p=.008); all other comparisons were not statistically significant (ps≥.085). For our second aim, there were no statistically significant differences among the four cognitive quartiles for 5STS (p=.456), TUG (p=.060), FGS (p=.181), 6MWT (p=.468), MBT (p=.321); however, there were for TUGcog (p=.046) and PGS (p=.033). The mild to moderate impairment quartile was significantly faster than the severe quartile (p=.006) for the TUGcog. For PGS, the mild to moderate was significantly faster than the very severe quartile (p=.039) and the moderate to severe was significantly faster than the severe and the very severe quartiles (severe, p=.036; and, very severe, p=.016). For our third aim, there were no statistically significant differences in the proportions of fallers (p=.636), recent fallers (p=.868), and injured fallers (p=.565) across the four cognitive quartiles. Discussion: Despite impairments recognized in our study compared to normative data, patients in the study with a fall history were not significantly worse across most measures of gait and balance, except fallers had poorer walking endurance as measured in the 6MWT. Additionally, the proportion of fallers did not increase as severity of cognitive impairment increased, although walking impairment as measured with PGS and TUGcog, especially with cognitive demand, is more prominent in those with more severe cognitive impairment. Conclusions: Balance and gait dysfunction were prominent at all levels of cognitive impairment in our study of patients with AD and appears to become more prominent at the most severe cognitive impairment levels. These progressive deficits represent potentially mitigable motor impairment features of AD that warrant physical therapy.